• childcare usage;
  • family policies;
  • policy coherence;
  • Sweden;
  • Finland;
  • Western Germany

European countries have increased their public childcare provision for children under age 3. However, it is unclear if and how usage patterns differ across countries. This study examined the relationship between the socio-economic characteristics of mothers and the use of childcare for 2-year-old children. Using European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions data for the years 2005–2008, we analysed the characteristics of mothers and usage patterns in Sweden, Finland and Western Germany. To single out the effect of maternal employment, working and non-working mothers were investigated separately. Our findings showed that, in Sweden, a country with strong support for dual-earner families, usage was largely independent of mothers' characteristics. However, in Western Germany, where more support is given to male breadwinner families, and in Finland, a country with pluralistic family support, highly educated mothers were found to be more likely to use childcare than were mothers with lower levels of education.