In the last decades one observes a growing scientific emphasis on the relevance of the first years of life for the cognitive, social and emotional development, and a consequent widening of the definition of children’s needs. Accordingly, the investment of parents in their children’s early years is also increasing, along with the demand concerning the quality level and educative contents of childcare.
Nevertheless, parents’ orientations concerning childcare options are severely constrained by the institutional configuration of policies and services. In particular, the supply-demand gap for early childcare services and the specific targeting of monetary support, pre-structure the childcare options of parents in most European countries. The span of childcare policies and services varies widely not only among countries, due to different welfare developments and settings, but also among local contexts, because the implementation of these policies and services is mainly local, even in centralised countries. This means that the local institutional configuration strongly constraints the parents options regarding childcare. By doing so, then, it indirectly influences other areas of individual and family life, such as the participation to the labour market of the parents and the gender contract between them, as well as their opportunities to participate in the life of their neighbourhood institutions (such as day-care centres) and of the social networks that develop around them.
Based on a comparative study between Italy and France, the paper aims at highlighting how the combination of national and local features of the welfare mix and of the services’ supply produce a span of options for parents which is specific of each local context. This creates the conditions for different types of social inequalities (in accessing the services, etc.) to be reproduced locally. The analysis of four local case studies, two municipalities in Italy (North/South) and two municipalities in France (Paris agglomeration/Bretagne) will allow to underline both the differences between the two countries and between local contexts within each of the country.