The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children
Annual statistical report 2010

4 Parents and the labour market

Matthew Gray1 and Jennifer Baxter, Australian Institute of Family Studies

The birth of a child often results in significant changes to parents', and particularly mothers', participation in the labour market. This chapter provides an overview of the patterns of parental employment for families with a youngest child up to 8-9 years of age. A number of specific issues are examined. These are:

  • patterns of maternal and paternal employment and how they vary with the age of the youngest child in the family;
  • the combined work hours of parents in two-parent families and how this varies with the age of the youngest child;
  • the proportion of children growing up in jobless families or families with only part-time employment;
  • persistent family joblessness and the characteristics of families that experience persistent joblessness;
  • the relationship between family joblessness and child wellbeing; and
  • the relationship between hours worked and parental wellbeing and family life.

4.1 Parental employment

This section provides an overview of the labour force status and hours worked by mothers and fathers and how this varies with the age of the youngest child.

Mothers

The birth of a child very often brings about significant changes to the paid employment of mothers. Most mothers withdraw from the labour market or reduce their hours of work following the birth of a child. Table 4.1 shows the rates of employment of mothers with an infant (0-1 year old) and how this varies according to the age of their infant. It also shows the proportion of mothers who were on paid or unpaid leave.

Table 4.1 Paid employment of mothers with an infant aged 3-14 months old, B cohort, Wave 1
  Age of youngest child a
3-5 months
%
6-8 months
%
9-11 months
%
12-14 months
%
Employed 22.9 30.9 39.5 45.3
Paid or unpaid maternity or parental leave 19.2 12.0 7.1 2.6
Other paid or unpaid leave or absences b 2.6 2.9 2.2 4.6
Not employed 55.4 54.2 51.2 47.5
Totals 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 569 1,816 1,917 741

Notes: a Analysis is based on the age of the study child, because for study children who are infants, the infant is virtually always the youngest child in the household. b "Other paid or unpaid leave or absences" includes other paid and unpaid time off work, including holiday and sick leave, unspecified unpaid leave and other absences from work (e.g., there is no work available, worker's compensation). Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

For mothers of 3-5 month old children, 23% were employed, 19% were on paid or unpaid maternity or parental leave and 3% were on some other form of leave (Table 4.1). The remaining 55% of mothers with a 3-5 month old child were not employed. The employment rate of mothers increases quite rapidly during the first year of their child's life, to 31% for those with a child 6-8 months of age, 40% for those with a 9-11 month old child and 45% for those with a child aged 12-14 months. The proportion of mothers on unpaid or paid maternity or parental leave falls steadily as mothers returned to work and is just 3% for those with a 12-14 month old.

Maternal labour force participation is strongly related to the age of the youngest child in the family. Therefore, in this chapter, labour force status is examined by the age of the youngest child.

Looking beyond the first year of the child's life, Table 4.2 shows mothers' employment rates and hours worked according to the age of her youngest child. As the age of her youngest child increased, mothers were increasingly likely to be in paid employment. The employment rates increased from 31% of mothers with an infant (under 1 year old) to 60% for those with a 4-year-old and to 73% for those with a 9-year-old child.

Table 4.2 Mother's employment status and hours of paid work, by age of youngest child, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3
Age of the youngest child (years)
< 1 % 1 % 2 % 3 % 4 % 5 % 6 % 7 % 8 % 9 %
Not employed a 68.8 55.4 47.0 45.3 40.3 36.8 32.5 30.5 26.9 26.6
Employed 31.2 44.6 53.0 54.7 59.7 63.2 67.5 69.5 73.1 73.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Hours worked per week (if employed)
1-14 hours 12.7 15.1 15.1 14.4 14.1 12.3 12.6 12.5 9.4 6.9
15-24 hours 8.9 13.7 17.7 16.5 17.6 19.3 19.1 20.5 21.0 20.9
25-34 hours 3.6 6.6 8.4 9.1 10.6 11.8 14.7 11.3 15.3 15.8
35-44 hours 4.5 5.7 8.7 10.2 12.4 13.9 14.7 16.6 18.6 18.3
45-54 hours 1.1 2.4 2.2 2.5 3.4 4.2 4.1 5.2 5.4 7.0
55 hours or more 0.4 1.1 0.9 2.1 1.7 1.7 2.3 3.5 3.5 4.6
Mean hours (if employed) 19.7 21.5 22.4 24.5 25.1 26.3 26.5 27.6 28.7 30.6
Median hours (if employed) 16 20 20 22 24 24 25 25 28 30

Notes: a The "Not employed" category includes mothers who had a job from which they were on leave. Percentages for hours worked may not total to match percentages employed due to rounding.

A relatively high proportion of employed mothers with very young children worked short hours - of the mothers with an infant, 31% were employed, and of these, 41% worked fewer than 15 hours per week (13% of mothers with an infant). Another 28% of those at work had paid work hours of 15-24 hours, and 12% worked 25-34 hours, making full-time work (35 hours or more) relatively uncommon, at 19% of those who were back at work.

As mothers return to work, the distribution of hours worked changes, with mothers less likely to be working very short hours and increasingly likely to work longer part-time or full-time hours. As such, among employed mothers, the mean hours worked increased from 20 hours for mothers of children aged less than 1 year, up to 25 hours for mothers with a youngest child aged 4 years, and 31 hours for mothers with a youngest child aged 9 years. Similarly, the median hours worked by mothers increased from 16 hours to 24 hours to 30 hours at each of these ages of children. Very few mothers worked longer full-time hours (more than 45 hours per week).

Fathers

Unlike mothers, fathers' employment rates or hours worked do not appear to be related, on average, to the age of their youngest child, with their employment rate ranging from 88% to 93% in their child's first 9 years (Table 4.3). Fathers had much longer hours of paid employment than mothers. For example, 26% of fathers with a youngest child aged 4 years worked 45-54 hours per week and 23% worked 55 hours or more per week. In contrast, 3% of mothers with a youngest child aged 4 years worked 45-54 hours per week and 2% worked 55 hours a week or more. At the other end of the hours spectrum, 1% of fathers with a youngest child aged 4 years worked 1-14 hours per week, compared to 14 % of mothers working these short part-time hours. Fathers' hours in paid work do not vary greatly by ages of children, with the mean number of hours worked ranging from 46 to 49 hours per week, and a median of 45 hours per week across all ages.

Table 4.3 Fathers' employment status and hours of paid work, by age of youngest child, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3
Age of the youngest child (years)
< 1 % 1 % 2 % 3 % 4 % 5 % 6 % 7 % 8 % 9 %
Not employed a 11.8 11.2 10.4 10.9 10.7 12.0 9.5 10.0 11.2 6.9
Employed 88.2 88.8 89.6 89.1 89.3 88.0 90.5 90.0 88.8 93.1
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Hours worked per week (if employed)
1-14 hours 1.3 1.6 1.0 1.3 0.8 1.1 0.9 1.2 0.8 1.2
15-24 hours 1.8 2.0 1.7 2.7 1.9 2.1 1.7 1.9 1.5 1.2
25-34 hours 3.3 3.2 2.9 3.9 2.9 3.0 2.2 3.6 2.4 2.2
35-44 hours 34.4 33.7 35.9 33.1 34.5 33.8 37.1 34.8 33.9 36.3
45-54 hours 27.3 25.9 26.2 24.0 26.1 26.4 26.4 25.2 25.8 25.9
55 hours or more 20.3 22.4 21.8 24.0 22.9 21.6 22.2 23.4 24.5 26.3
Mean hours (if employed) 46.4 46.8 46.8 47.0 47.2 47.0 47.1 47.0 47.7 48.5
Median hours (if employed) 45 45 45 45 45 45 45 45 45 45

Notes: a The "Not employed" category includes fathers who had a job from which they were on leave. Percentages for hours worked may not total to match percentages employed due to rounding.

Combined working hours of couple parents

This subsection provides information on the combined working hours of parents in two-parent families. As the age of the youngest child increased, the combined average hours worked by the parents increased, from 49 hours per week for families with a child aged 0-1 years, to 56 hours for a family with a child aged 2-4 years, and to 62 hours for a family with a child aged 5-9 years, compared with an overall mean of 55 hours.

The proportion of two-parent families with a child aged 0-9 years (the average for the B and K cohorts across Waves 1-3) reporting no paid work hours was 7%, and another 5% had combined parental working hours of fewer than 35 hours per week (the equivalent of one full-time job). The proportion with parents working a combined equivalent of two full-time jobs (70 hours or more per week) was 28%.

Figure 4.1 (page 32) shows the distribution of combined weekly work hours of two parents with a youngest child aged 0-1 years, a youngest child aged 2-4 years and youngest child aged 5-9 years. As the age of the youngest child increases, the distribution of working hours shifts to the right, with an increasing proportion of parents having combined working hours above full-time hours.

Figure 4.1 Total weekly hours worked by parents in two-parent families, by age of youngest child, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3

Figure 4.1 Total weekly hours worked by parents in two-parent families, by age of youngest child, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3 - as described in text

Note: "Not working" includes those on leave as well as those without employment.

4.2 Children growing up in jobless families or families with part-time only employment

Australia has a relatively high rate of households with children in which no adult is employed (jobless households/families) - 12% compared to an OECD average of 6.4%. This is the most important single cause of child poverty in Australia.

This high rate of joblessness has led to concerns about its impact on children (e.g., Dawkins, 1996; Reference Group on Welfare Reform the McClure Report, 2000). Indeed, one of the six priority areas for the Australian Social Inclusion Agenda is "helping jobless families with children by helping the unemployed into sustainable employment and their children into a good start in life" (Australian Government, 2010).

This section provides more detailed information on the extent to which children are living in households in which there is no parent who is employed. The extent to which children are living in a jobless family for multiple waves of LSAC (persistent joblessness) is also analysed.

Rates of joblessness in lone- and two-parent families

In describing joblessness among families with children, it is important to examine lone- and two-parent families separately, as much of the joblessness in families with children in Australia is related to the relatively low rate of employment of lone mothers and the relatively high proportion of children living in lone-mother families (Whiteford, 2009).

Table 4.4 provides information on the number of jobs held by parents in households according to the age of the youngest child for lone- and two-parent families.2 The number of jobs was calculated by assigning a value of 0.5 for a part-time job and 1.0 for a full-time job, so that two-parent families in which both parents are employed part-time would have the equivalent of one full-time job (0.5 + 0.5).3

Table 4.4 Family labour supply in lone- and two-parent families, by age of youngest child, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3
Age of youngest child
0-1 years
%
2-4 years
%
5-9 years
%
Lone-parent family
Jobless (0 job) 83.0 59.5 39.0
1 part-time job (0.5 jobs) 14.0 28.3 38.7
1 job (1.0 job) 3.0 12.2 23.3
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
Two-parent family
Jobless (0 job) 9.1 6.7 5.7
1 part-time (0.5 job) 5.4 4.5 4.2
1 job (1 full-time or 2 part-time) (1.0 job) 52.4 36.1 26.4
1.5 jobs (1.5 jobs) 27.3 40.4 43.4
2 jobs (2.0 jobs) 5.8 12.3 20.3
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0

Note: Parents who were "on leave" at the time of the interview are classified as being not employed.

Only a minority of children living in two-parent families lived in a jobless family, with their jobless rates being:

  • 9% for those with a youngest child aged 0-1 years;
  • 7% for those with a child aged 2 to 4 years; and
  • 6% for those with a child aged 5 to 9 years.

The rates of joblessness were much higher for lone-parent families, with jobless rates being:

  • 83% for those with a youngest child aged 0-1 years;
  • 59% for those with a child aged 2-4 years; and
  • 39% for those with a child aged 5-9 years.

Few children in two-parent families lived in a family in which there was only one part-time job (4-5%). The proportion of children in a lone-parent family in which there was only one part-time job was much higher. Of lone parents with a youngest child aged 0-1 years, 14% were employed part-time. Of those with a youngest child aged 2-4 years, 28% were part-time employed, and of those with a youngest child aged 5-9 years, 39% were part-time employed.

The proportion of children in a 1.5 job two-parent family (one full time and one-part-time job) increased with the age of the youngest child, from 27% for those in a family with an infant, to 40% for those with a youngest child aged 2-4 years and 43% for those living in a family with a youngest child aged 5-9 years.

Only a minority of children lived in a family in which both parents were employed full-time, although the percentage did increase from 6% for those with an infant to 20% for those with a youngest child aged 5-9 years. In lone-parent families, the proportion with a parent employed full-time increased from 3% for those with an infant to 23% for those with a youngest child aged 5-9 years.

Persistence of joblessness

This section provides information on the extent to which children were living in a jobless family at each of the waves. A family may be jobless for a variety of reasons. It may be a result of a parent being sacked or made redundant; having ill health; or having caring responsibilities for the child or another family member or friend that prevents them from being in paid employment. The joblessness may be shorter or longer term (persistent), and this is likely to be important in determining the impact of joblessness on the wellbeing of the family and children (e.g., Bolger, Patterson, Thompson, & Kupersmidt, 1995).

Joblessness is measured at the time of interview at each wave and so the measure used in this chapter does not capture those who had a different employment status between interviews than at the time of interview.4

There is little Australian evidence on the extent of persistence of family or household joblessness over the medium term. The only research we are aware of is based on the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, which examines the medium-term persistence of household joblessness (Wilkins, Warren, & Hahn, 2009). We are not aware of any Australian research that has explored the extent to which the impact on child wellbeing of living in a jobless family is related to the length of time the child experiences family joblessness.5

Overall, 86% of the LSAC study children were not living in a jobless family at any of the first three waves of interviews and 14% were living in a jobless family at the time of at least one interview. Around 7% were jobless at the time of one interview, 4% were jobless at the time of two of the interviews and 3-4% were jobless at the time of all three interviews (Table 4.5).

Table 4.5 Persistence of joblessness, by family type, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3
Never
jobless
%
One
wave
%
Two
waves
%
Three
waves
%
Total
%
B cohort
Always lone-parent family 19.4 12.4 21.5 46.6 100.0
Lone- and two-parent family 48.1 31.3 15.5 5.0 100.0
Always couple-parent family 93.9 3.9 1.0 1.3 100.0
Total 85.6 7.1 3.5 3.8 100.0
K cohort
Always lone-parent family 43.1 15.3 19.1 22.5 100.0
Lone- and two-parent family 52.0 31.4 13.4 3.3 100.0
Always couple-parent family 95.0 2.9 0.9 1.2 100.0
Total 86.5 6.8 3.6 3.1 100.0

Notes: Family type measured at the time of the interview. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

As demonstrated in subsection 4.3, rates of joblessness are much higher in lone-parent than two-parent families. Analysis of the relationship between the persistence of joblessness and type of family (lone- or two-parent) is complicated by the fact that family type changes over time (see Chapter 3), with parents separating and re-partnering between waves.

For the purposes of exploring the relationship between joblessness and family type, we classified families according to whether they were: (a) a lone-parent family at the time of every interview (always lone-parent family); (b) a two-parent family at the time of every interview (always two-parent family); or (c) a family that changed between lone- and two-parent status from one wave to another (lone- and two-parent family).

For the B cohort, of children who were always living in a lone-parent family, 19% were never in a jobless family, 12% were in a jobless family for one of the three waves, 22% for two of the waves and 47% for all three waves. For those who were in a two-parent family at all three waves, the vast majority were never in a jobless family (94%) and just 1% were living in a jobless family at all three waves. For those whose parents changed relationship status during the period covered by the first three waves, 48% never lived in a jobless family, 31% did so at one wave, 16% at two waves and 5% at three waves.

For the K cohort, of children who were always in a lone-parent family, 43% were never in a jobless family, 15% were in a jobless family for one wave, 19% for two waves and 23% for three waves. For those always living in a two-parent family, 95% were never in a jobless family, 3% were in a jobless family for one wave, and 1% for two and three waves.

The differences between the B cohort and the K cohort is probably because the K cohort is older and lone mothers' rates of employment increase as their youngest child grows older.

4.3 Relationship between parental joblessness and child wellbeing

There is surprisingly little Australian research into the relationship between living in a jobless family and the wellbeing of children, although this topic has been addressed through analyses of how children's outcomes vary with poverty or financial hardship (e.g., Smart, Sanson, Baxter, Edwards, & Hayes, 2008). There is, however, considerable international evidence that children's outcomes are negatively associated with growing up in jobless families, or families experiencing poverty or financial hardship (Bolger et al., 1995; Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997; Evans, 2004).

In this section, the relationship between living in a jobless family and child wellbeing is described. The analysis should not be interpreted as showing a causal impact of living in a jobless family on children's wellbeing. Other factors, such as low levels of parental educational attainment, are associated with an increased likelihood of living in a jobless family and also lower levels of child wellbeing, and these analyses do not attempt to disentangle which factors primarily explain child outcomes. Also, a very significant characteristic of joblessness is that these families are likely to experience more financial hardship than other families, and this is an important factor when considering links to child outcomes. The relationships are presented here to demonstrate that, regardless of why this occurs, children's wellbeing is significantly related to their experience of family joblessness.

Joblessness and parents' characteristics

Table 4.6 shows that there is a clear link between parental educational attainment and the persistence of joblessness, using the K cohort as an example (similar patterns are apparent in the B cohort). In two-parent families, the proportion of mothers with a low level of educational attainment (incomplete secondary education) increased from 20% in families that were not jobless at any wave, to 37% that were jobless at one wave, 47% jobless at two waves and 77% jobless at three waves. For fathers, the pattern is not as strong, although the families that had never been jobless were the least likely to have fathers with incomplete secondary education.

Table 4.6 Proportion of mothers and fathers with low level of educational attainment (incomplete secondary education), by family joblessness and family type, K cohort, Waves 1-3
  Never
jobless
%
Jobless
at one
wave
%
Jobless
at two
waves
%
Jobless
at three
waves
%
Lone-parent family
Lone parent a 25 38 45 51
Two-parent family
Mothers 20 37 47 77
Fathers 15 23 30 25

Notes: Educational attainment and type of family were measured at Wave 1. a 96% of lone parents are mothers.

There is also a clear link between educational attainment and the experience of joblessness for lone parents. The proportion with a low level of educational attainment increased from 25% of those who were not jobless at any wave, to 38% who were jobless at one wave, 45% jobless at two waves and 51% jobless at three waves.

There is also a clear relationship between the socio-economic status of the neighbourhood and the likelihood of a child living in a jobless family. Families that experience joblessness at two or more waves are much more likely to live in socio-economically disadvantaged geographic areas than families that do not experience joblessness. To demonstrate, regional Australian Census data were used to identify areas of relatively low socio-economic status; that is, postcodes with an index of socio-economic advantage/disadvantage6 in the lowest 25% of the distribution of this index. Among the LSAC families, 20% that were never jobless were living in areas of lower socio-economic status, compared to 32% that were jobless at one wave, 29% at two waves and 44% at three waves.

Joblessness and children's wellbeing

In this chapter, the wellbeing of children is measured using a composite measure (the "outcome index"; Sanson et al., 2005) of how children are developing in the following broad areas (domains): learning and cognitive development; social and emotional functioning; and physical development. There is an outcome index for each of these domains and one for how the child is doing overall (across all three domains). The outcome index and each of the domain-specific indices have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 10.

Figures 4.2 and 4.3 show how children's wellbeing varies according to the persistence of joblessness for each domain and for the overall measure for the B and K cohorts respectively (measured at Wave 3). These figures include children in both lone- and two-parent families. In each cohort, children who were living in a jobless family at any of the first three waves of LSAC had a lower level of wellbeing (as measured by the outcome index) than children who were not living in a jobless family at any of the first three waves. Further, more sustained exposure to joblessness was associated with the poorest outcomes.

Figure 4.2 Child outcome indices at Wave 3, by joblessness over Waves 1-3, B cohort

Figure 4.2 Child outcome indices at Wave 3, by joblessness over Waves 1-3, B cohort - as described in text

Figure 4.3 Child outcome indices at Wave 3, by joblessness over Waves 1-3, K cohort

Figure 4.3 Child outcome indices at Wave 3, by joblessness over Waves 1-3, K cohort - as described in text

The difference between children who were not in a jobless family at the time of any of the three waves and those in a jobless family at all waves is about one standard deviation (10 points). This is a very substantial difference, and is equivalent to going from the average to being in the bottom 15% of children in terms of the overall measure of wellbeing.

Differences in each of the specific domains of development (learning/cognitive, social/emotional and physical) are also apparent according to the persistence of joblessness.

Of course, these associations reflect many different underlying factors other than just joblessness. As demonstrated above, children in jobless families and particularly persistently jobless families have, on average, mothers with much lower levels of educational attainment and they live in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods. These are factors associated with lower levels of child wellbeing and development.

4.4 Parental employment and family wellbeing

Australia has a greater polarisation of working hours among the employed than in many other countries - while rates of part-time employment are relatively high, those who are employed full-time quite commonly work long hours. Concerns have been raised about the potentially detrimental impact that long working hours and overwork may have on family life and, ultimately, child wellbeing (Galinsky et al., 2005). Working long hours may place greater pressure and stress on parents and may have a negative impact on family life.

In this section, three measures from LSAC are analysed:

  • Whether parents feel rushed or pressed for time - Parents were asked how often they felt rushed or pressed for time. The response options were: "always", "often", "sometimes", "rarely" or "never". The variable used is being "always" or "often" rushed.
  • If employed, whether parents miss out on family activities due to work - Parents were asked to report on the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement: "Because of my work responsibilities, I have missed out on home or family activities that I would like to have taken part in". The response options were: "strongly agree", "agree", "neither agree nor disagree", "disagree" or "strongly disagree". The variable used is whether the respondent "agrees" or "strongly agrees" that they have missed out on home or family activities.
  • The extent to which parents perceive that their life is difficult - Parents were asked: "How difficult do you feel your life is at present?" The response options were: "no problems or stresses", "few problems or stresses", "some problems and stresses". "many problems and stresses" and "very many problems and stresses". The variable used is having "many" or "very many" problems and stresses.

For both mothers (Figures 4.4 and 4.5) and fathers (Figures 4.6 and 4.7), working longer hours is associated with a greater feeling of being rushed or pressed for time, and of missing out on family activities due to work. The differences across work hours were far greater than the differences by age of the youngest child. For fathers, those working 55 hours or more a week were considerably more likely to report being rushed or pressed for time, or to be missing out on family activities, than those working shorter hours.

Figure 4.4 Mothers feeling rushed or pressed for time, by age of youngest child and weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3

Figure 4.4 Mothers feeling rushed or pressed for time, by age of youngest child and weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3  - as described in text

Figure 4.5 Employed mothers missing out on family activities due to work, by age of youngest child and weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3

Figure 4.5 Employed mothers missing out on family activities due to work, by age of youngest child and weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3  - as described in text

Note: "Not working" includes those on leave as well as those without employment.

Figure 4.6 Fathers feeling rushed or pressed for time, by age of youngest child and weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3

Figure 4.6 Fathers feeling rushed or pressed for time, by age of youngest child and weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3 - as described in text

Figure 4.7 Employed fathers missing out on family activities due to work, by age of youngest child and weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3

Figure 4.7 Employed fathers missing out on family activities due to work, by age of youngest child and weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3  - as described in text

Note: "Not working" includes those on leave as well as those without employment.

For mothers, the difference in being rushed or pressed for time for those with an infant (0-1 year old) varies from 41% of those who were not working saying they were rushed or pressed for time compared to 65% of those working full-time (35+ hours). The proportion of mothers who said that they missed out on family activities increases from 18% for those working 1-15 hours to 57% of the mothers working full-time. For fathers with an infant, the proportion saying that they were rushed or pressed for time increases from 29% of those who were not working to 54% for those working 45+ hours per week. For fathers with an infant, the proportion saying that they missed out on family activities due to work increases from 46% of those working part-time (1-34 hours per week) to 69% for those working 45+ hours per week.

It is perhaps not surprising that parents who are working long hours and who have young children are more likely to be rushed or pressed for time and to miss out on family events due to their work than their counterparts who are not working or are working fewer hours. It is more surprising that any parent in this situation would say that were not often or always rushed for time!

While additional working hours can put pressure on parents and family life, it also brings in additional income, which can improve living standards, provide families with more opportunities and allow services such as child care and assistance with domestic tasks (e.g., cooking and cleaning) to be purchased on the market.

It is therefore important to consider alternative measures that can reflect the wellbeing of parents. As outlined above, we also examine the relationship between the number of hours worked and how difficult mothers and fathers feel that their life is at present (Figure 4.8).7 For both mothers and fathers, there is a U-shaped relationship between the number of hours worked and having many or very many problems and stresses. Parents who were not employed and parents working longer hours (35+ hours for mothers and 45+ hours for fathers) were more likely to have many or very many problems and stresses in their life at the time of interview. The relationship between the number of hours worked and experiencing difficulties in life is much smaller than for feeling rushed or pressed for time, or for missing out on family activities.

Figure 4.8 Difficulty of life at present for mothers and fathers, by weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3

Figure 4.8 Difficulty of life at present for mothers and fathers, by weekly work hours, B and K cohorts, Waves 1-3  - as described in text

4.5 Summary

This chapter has highlighted the value of having large-scale longitudinal data that provide information on parental labour force participation, parental wellbeing, family life and child wellbeing.

A relatively high proportion of employed mothers in LSAC with very young children worked short hours. As mothers returned to work, the distribution of hours worked changed, with mothers becoming less likely to work very short hours and increasingly likely to work longer part-time or full-time hours. Unlike mothers, fathers' employment rates or hours worked do not appear to be related to the age of their youngest child, with around nine in ten being employed across all age groups.

This chapter provides new analyses on the extent to which young Australian children are living in households in which there is no parent in paid employment. It also provides some of the first Australian evidence on living in a persistently jobless family. It is clear that only a minority of children were living in a jobless family for successive waves of LSAC, but that living in a persistently jobless family is much more common for lone-parent rather than two-parent families.

Children living in jobless families in at least one LSAC wave had worse outcomes, on average, than did children who were not living in a jobless family at any of the first three waves. The more waves that the child spent living in a jobless family the worse, on average, their outcomes were. While joblessness may in and of itself have a negative impact on children, it is almost certainly the case that the worse outcomes for children in jobless families is due at least in part to other characteristics of the family that both increase their likelihood of being jobless and their children not doing as well as other children. The education levels of mothers was much lower in families that were jobless and jobless families were more likely to live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Parents in these families often face multiple barriers to being in paid employment and these barriers are also likely to have a detrimental impact upon their children's development and wellbeing.

These findings provide support for social inclusion policies, which aim to address the multiple barriers faced by long-term and persistently jobless families. This will be important in minimising the inter-generational transmission of disadvantage.

4.6 Further reading

  • Alexander, M., & Baxter, J. (2005). Impacts of work on family life among partnered parents of young children. Family Matters, 72, 18-25.
  • Baxter, J. (2007). When dad works long hours: How work hours are associated with fathering 4-5-year-old children. Family Matters, 77, 60-69.
  • Baxter, J., & Gray, M. (2006). Paid work characteristics of mothers with infants. Family Matters, 74, 34-41.
  • Baxter, J., Gray, M., Alexander, M., Strazdins, L., & Bittman, M. (2007). Mothers and fathers with young children: Paid employment, caring and wellbeing (Social Policy Research Paper No. 30). Canberra: Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
  • Brown, J. E., Bittman, M., & Nicholson, J. (2007). Time or money: The impact of parental employment on time that 4 to 5 year olds spend in language building activities. Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 10, 149-165.
  • Diamond, C., Baird, M,. & Whitehouse, G. (2007). Maternity leave and return to work in Australia: Accessibility and use in a state utility. Australian Bulletin of Labour, 33(2), 134-157.
  • Strazdins, L., Shipley, M., & Broom, D. (2007). What does family-friendly really mean? Wellbeing, time, and the quality of parents' jobs. Australian Bulletin of Labour, 33(2), 202-225.
  • Whitehouse, G., Baird, M., Diamond, C., & Soloff, C. (2007). Parental leave in Australia: Beyond the statistical gap. Journal of Industrial Relations, 49(1), 103-112.
  • Whitehouse, G., Diamond, C., & Baird, M. (2007). Fatherhood and the use of leave in Australia. Community, Work and Family, 10(4), 387-407.

4.7 References

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2006). Information paper: An introduction to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), 2006 (Cat. No. 2039.0). Canberra: ABS.
  • Australian Government. (2010). Social inclusion priorities. Canberra: Australian Government. Retrieved from <www.socialinclusion.gov.au/SIAgenda/Priorities/Pages/default.aspx>.
  • Bolger, K., Patterson, C., Thompson, W., & Kupersmidt, J. (1995). Psychosocial adjustment among children experiencing persistent and intermittent family economic hardship. Child Development, 66(4), 1107-1129.
  • Brooks-Gunn, J., & Duncan, G. (1997). The effects of poverty on children. The Future of Children, 7(2), 55-71.
  • Cobb-Clark, D., & Sartbayeva, A. (2007). The relationship between income support history characteristics and outcomes of Australian youth (Youth in Focus Project Discussion Paper No. 2). Canberra: Australian National University.
  • Cobb-Clark, D., & Sartbayeva, A. (2010). The relationship between income-support history and the characteristics and outcomes of Australian youth: ‚Ä®Outcomes of Wave 2 of the Youth in Focus survey (Youth in Focus Project Discussion Paper No. 9). Canberra: Australian National University.
  • Dawkins, P., (1996). The distribution of work in Australia. Economic Record, 72, 272-286.
  • Evans, G. (2004). The environment of childhood poverty. American Psychologist, 59(2), 77-92.
  • Galinsky, E., Bond, J., Kim, S., Backon, L., Brownfield, E., & Sakai, K. (2005). Overwork in America: When the way we work becomes too much. New York: Families and Work Institute.
  • Reference Group on Welfare Reform. (2000). Participation support for a more equitable society. Canberra: Department of Family and Community Services.
  • Renda, J. (2003). Polarisation of families according to work status: Where does part-time employment fit in? Family Matters, 64, 17-21.
  • Sanson, A., Misson, S., Wake, M., Zubrick, S., Silburn, S., Rothman, S., & Dickenson, J. (2005). Summarising children's wellbeing: The LSAC Outcome Index (LSAC Technical Paper No. 2). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Smart, D., Sanson, A., Baxter, J., Edwards, B., & Hayes, A. (2008). Home-to-school transitions for financially disadvantaged children. Sydney. The Smith Family.
  • Whiteford, P. (2009). Family joblessness in Australia. Canberra: Social Inclusion Unit, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • Wilkins, R., Warren, D., & Hahn, M. (2009). Families, incomes and jobs: Vol. 4. A statistical report on Waves 1 to 6 of the HILDA survey. Melbourne: Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

Footnote(s)

1 At the time of writing, Matthew Gray was Deputy Director (Research) at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He is now Professor of Indigenous Public Policy at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.

2 Lone-parent families include a small percentage of lone-father families.

3 This approach was first used by Renda (2003).

4 While LSAC does provide information on the number of months each parent was not in paid employment between waves, it does not collect information on the exact months in which the parents were not employed. Therefore, it is not possible, for some two-parent families, to determine whether there were months in which neither parent was employed (i.e., whether the family was jobless).

5 Research based on the Youth in Focus Survey (Cobb-Clark & Sartbayeva, 2007, 2010) examined the links between parental income support payment history and young people's wellbeing (at the ages of 18 and 20). While income support history and family joblessness are differing measures, they are closely linked. Cobb-Clark and Sartbayeva showed that there were links between persistent parental reliance on income support payments and how the children were doing at 18 and 20 years of age.

6 For more information about this index, refer to Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006).

7 The differences according to the age of the youngest child are small and so the analysis of this question combines the cohorts and waves.

Top