The research contradicts claims that children suffer 'emotional deprivation' because they are separated from their parents at an early age. However another report published today says that the demand for more state-provided childcare is an 'untested consensus' which does not have the backing of most women.
Dr Cliff Davies of Manchester University, who carried out the day-nursery study, looked at children attending day-care centres in the city, comparing children aged between 18 months and two years who were attending centres, with children on the waiting lists.
Dr Davies and his colleague, Petri Rahman, found there was a clear difference between the two groups. The children going to day-care centres made substantial progress in their thinking and intelligence as well as in their social skills. Children on the waiting list did not show the same level of progress.
Neither group showed any signs of emotional disturbance.
Speaking at a British Psychological Society conference in Edinburgh yesterday, Dr Davies said: 'There are studies which claim that while nurseries offer children a stimulating environment there may well be a price to pay in terms of social or emotional development because of the separation from parents. Our research didn't give any reason to worry.'
But a report by Patricia Morgan, a sociologist, for the Social Affairs Unit, a right-of-centre research group, criticises plans by the European Commission and the British Equal Opportunities Commission for the 'wholesale transformation' of families by increasing childcare places.
Equality 'activists' assume they know what women want, she says, but she claims that surveys show that 80 per cent of people prefer the traditional family with the father as the main breadwinner and the mother as the child-rearer. This is treated as 'an obstacle to be removed,' according to her report, which challenges the asssumption that there is a widespread demand for more childcare to allow women to work outside the home.
Advocates of comprehensive childcare live in a 'fantasy land', because neither the financial resources nor staff exist to make such care a reality, Ms Morgan says. Thousands of women would end up doing 'as employees what they would previously have done as mothers or housewives'.
She claims that experience in Sweden, which led the field in developing childcare proves that the plans are doomed to failure. Universal state-funded day-care was never achieved and the number of under-sevensin day-care in Sweden fell from 40 per cent in the early 1980s to 29 per cent in 1987, while care for children under 18 months has been abandoned.
Most Swedish children are cared for at home - employers have introduced extended maternity leave - or by arrangements with neighbours or relatives.
Families in Dreamland; Social Affairs Unit, 75 Davies Street, London W1Y 1FA; pounds 4.50.