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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1999   
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Contents >> Family >> Family Functioning: Looking after the children

Family Functioning: Looking After The Children

In 1997, mothers with children aged under five spent more than three times as much time per day on child care, and were less than half as likely to work full-time as mothers whose youngest was aged between 10 and 14 years.

One of the most important aspects of a child's upbringing is their relationship with their primary care givers - usually the child's parents. Parents spend time with their children for various reasons, including to nurture them, be role models, help with educational needs, and teach them life and socialisation skills. Ultimately, this time shapes the child's view of the world and lays the foundations for adult independence.

Increasingly, families with children under 15 years have both parents in paid work. For many, this introduces on-going challenges in balancing their family responsibilities and work commitments. Between 1988 and 1998, the proportion of couple families with children under 15, where both parents worked increased from 50% to 56%.

This review focuses on the time parents in couple families report being involved in child care activities. In particular, it examines how mothers and fathers differ in the time they spend looking after their children and in the types of child care activities they participate in, as their children get older.


Child care activities

Information on time spent on different activities is taken from the 1992 and 1997 Time Use Surveys. Time use data was compiled from a household questionnaire and a 48-hour diary of time use, completed by respondents aged 15 years and over. For each five-minute time slot in the diary, people could record up to two concurrent activities. In this review, the amount of time given to child care (as a main or concurrent activity) is examined for men and women in couple relationships (married or de facto) with children aged 0-14.

Child care activities relate to activities parents reported undertaking for their children. This includes the time spent as a main activity, or in association with another activity. In this article the three broad categories of child care are:

Active child care - requires the physical involvement of a parent such as the physical and emotional care of children; teaching, helping and reprimanding; and playing, reading and talking with children;

Passive child care - are activities requiring only the passive involvement of a parent such as minding or supervising children. Excludes minding children while parents are asleep;

Associated child care - activities such as any travel or communication related to child care activities and visiting child care establishments (e.g. schools).

MOTHERS AND FATHERS: AVERAGE REPORTED TIME SPENT PER DAY ON CHILD CARE ACTIVITIES, AND PROPORTION EMPLOYED FULL-TIME

Fathers
Mothers


Child care
Employed full-time
Child care
Employed full-time
hrs:mins
%
hrs:mins
%

Age of youngest child in 1997
    0-4 years
3:06
82.6
8:27
15.5
    5-9 years
2:13
81.9
4:58
21.5
    10-14 years
1:06
84.3
2:11
37.2
Number of children in 1997
    One
1:53
82.5
4:50
31.2
    Two
2:43
86.7
6:33
18.8
    Three or more
2:40
76.5
7:22
13.1
Total 1997
2:24
82.8
6:07
21.9

Total 1992
2:31
83.1
6:46
19.4

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1992 and 1997.


Major patterns and trends
In 1992, on average, mothers spent 6hrs: 46 mins per day on child care activities, more than twice as much as fathers (2:hrs: 31mins). On the other hand, reflecting traditional roles and responsibilities, fathers were far more likely to be employed full-time (83% of fathers compared to 19% of mothers). Nevertheless, the pattern has been changing. As women have been entering the work force, the time they spend with their children has been decreasing (6 hrs: 7 mins in 1997). Little change was evident among fathers (2hrs: 24 mins per day in 1997) whose involvement in full-time work remained about the same between 1992 and 1997.

As children grow older, mothers are more likely to be employed (see Australian Social Trends 1998, Trends in women's employment), reflecting the lower level of care and supervision needed by children of school age. In 1997, mothers with children less than 5 years old spent an average of 8hrs: 27 mins per day on child care, and only 16% worked full-time. In comparison, mothers whose youngest child was aged 10-14 reported spending less than a third as much time on child care (2hrs: 11 mins per day) and were more than twice as likely to work full-time (37% compared to 16%).

Unlike mothers, the proportion of fathers in full-time employment did not change much with the age of the youngest child. 83% of fathers with children aged 0-4 years worked full-time compared to 82% whose youngest was 5-9 and 84% whose youngest was 10-14. As was the case for mothers, the average time fathers spent on child care decreased as children became older.

The time spent on child care was also higher in families where several children were present. As with age of children, the influence of the number of children was greater for mothers than fathers, both in terms of the time spent with children and the likelihood of being in full-time employment.

Both mothers and fathers who were employed part-time, or not employed, spent more time with their children than those working full-time. However, the time spent by parents on child care not only depends on their own employment status, but also on many other factors, including the employment status of their partners. For example, in the more usual situation, where the father was working full-time, the mother spent progressively less time with their children as her hours of employment increased. However, for fathers in such families, the time spent with their children bore little relationship to the mother's hours of work. In fact, men spent slightly less time with their children, on average, when women worked full-time than when they worked part-time.


FATHERS AND MOTHERS: AVERAGE REPORTED TIME SPENT ON CHILD CARE ACTIVITIES, BY EMPLOYMENT STATUS, 1997
(a) Includes people unemployed and not in the labour force.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.

FATHERS AND MOTHERS: AVERAGE REPORTED TIME SPENT ON CHILD CARE ACTIVITIES WHERE THE FATHER WAS EMPLOYED FULL-TIME 1997
(a) Includes people unemployed and not in the labour force.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.

Types of child care activities
Parents provide care for their children in various ways, often just passively minding them while they are attending to other activities such as cooking or cleaning - or just relaxing. However, they also spend time actively looking after the personal needs of their children, such as feeding, cuddling, reading or talking to their children, as well as some time on extra tasks such as organising their daily activities. The extent to which mothers and fathers share their time in attending to various child care activities can be demonstrated by focusing on parents with similar work commitments - for example, where both parents are employed full-time.

In general, in families where both parents worked full-time, mothers spent about twice as much time as fathers on child care (nearly 4hrs for mothers and 2hrs: 4 mins for fathers). Moreover, mothers spent more time than fathers on all types of child care activities, for children of all age groups.

Children under school age commonly require much more personal attention than older children. Consequently, both mothers and fathers (where both were working full-time) spent more time with children aged 0-4 years. For fathers, this time was fairly evenly divided between active and passive child care activities (1hr: 27 mins and 1hr: 33 mins, respectively), while mothers spent more time on active child care (3hrs: 15 mins, compared with 2hrs: 47mins on passive child care), particularly on the physical and emotional care of these children (1hr: 50mins per day, on average). Mothers spent more time than fathers on the physical and emotional care of older children, too, but for both partners this declined sharply with the age of the child. Time spent playing, reading and talking with their children declined less sharply with the age of the child, and became the dominant type of active care for both parents of older children, particularly fathers.

After children reach school age, parents spent more time on passive than active child care - almost as much for 5-9 year olds (1hr: 30mins for fathers and 2hrs: 12mins for mothers) as for 0-4 year olds (1hr: 33mins and 2hrs: 47mins, respectively). Much less time was spent on the passive care of children in the 10-14 years age group (22mins and 33mins, respectively).
Other child care activities, such as getting children's things ready for the next day, visiting child care establishments and associated travel, took up much less time - less than 25 minutes per day for both parents, for children of any age.

FATHERS AND MOTHERS: AVERAGE REPORTED TIME SPENT PER DAY ON CHILD CARE ACTIVITIES IN FAMILIES WHERE BOTH PARENTS WORKED FULL-TIME, 1997

Age of youngest child
Total


0-4 years
5-9 years
10-14 years
0-14 years




Fathers
Mothers
Fathers
Mothers
Fathers
Mothers
Fathers
Mothers
Child care activity
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins

Active child care(a)
1:27
3:15
0:36
1:29
0:18
0:52
0:48
1:53
Physical and emotional care
0:37
1:50
0:06
0:25
0:01*
0:10
0:15
0:50
Playing reading and talking with children
0:49
1:24
0:27
0:58
0:16
0:36
0:31
0:59
Passive child care
1:33
2:47
1:30
2:12
0:22*
0:33
1:07
1:48
Associated child care(b)
0:10
0:23
0:10*
0:17
0:07*
0:12
0:09
0:17
Total
3:10
6:26
2:17
3:59
0:47
1:37
2:04
3:58

(a) Includes time spent teaching, helping, or reprimanding children.
(b) Includes time spent visiting child care establishments, associated travel and communication, and child care activities not elsewhere classified, such as getting children's things ready for the next day.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.


Juggling work and family
Managing work and family responsibilities can often be difficult for parents, especially mothers. This can be observed in terms of the proportion of parents who state that they always or often feel rushed or pushed for time. In general, mothers were more likely than fathers to report that they always or often felt rushed or pushed for time, while men and women without dependent children were less likely to report this feeling. For example, of couples where both worked full-time, 70% of mothers stated they always or often felt rushed or pushed for time, compared to 56% of fathers and 52% of women with no dependent children. Similarly, of women who worked part-time whose partners worked full-time, 67% of mothers stated they always or often felt rushed or pushed for time, compared to 35% of women with no dependent children.

PARTNERS: PROPORTIONS FEELING RUSHED FOR TIME(a), 1997

Men
Women
%
%

Male partner employed full-time
    Women with children(b)
    Employed full-time
55.6
69.5
    Employed part-time
61.4
67.2
    Not employed
47.2
51.3
    Women without children(c)
    Employed full-time
44.3
52.3
    Employed part-time
40.1
34.8
    Not employed
34.6
13.6
All couples
    With children(b)
50.7
59.8
    Without children(c)
23.4
25.9

(a) Proportion who stated they were always or often rushed or pushed for time.
(b) Children aged 0-14 years.
(c) Children of any age (i.e. couple only families).

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997



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