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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
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Contents >> Family and Community >> Family functioning: Balancing family and work

Family functioning: Balancing family and work

In 2001, around 43% (867,700) of all families with children aged less than 15 years were couple families where both parents were employed.

With the increase in women's participation in the labour force, a growing proportion of Australian families face new challenges combining family and paid work responsibilities. The proportion of traditional 'sole breadwinner' families, where the husband works full-time and earns money for the family and the wife undertakes unpaid household work and child care, is decreasing in Australian society.1 While some couples still choose this arrangement, in many families both parents continue working after the birth of children, either out of choice or necessity. In addition, one-parent families have become more common over the last 20 years (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Changing families). Many lone parents face the challenge of earning sufficient income and finding child care without the support of a resident partner.

Balancing family and paid work is a challenge for both men and women. Despite men and women sharing domestic tasks more equitably than in previous generations, men still spend longer hours in paid employment than women, while women continue to take on a greater proportion of child care than men.2 Women aged 25-34 years are in their main childbearing years, but it is also during this period that employed women are likely to be gaining promotions and taking on greater responsibilities at work.3 Competing aspirations for family and career may result in women delaying having children until later in life (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Older mothers) or not having children at all (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Trends in childlessness). 'Family friendly' arrangements are available in an increasing number of workplaces to support families either for a set period of time (e.g. maternity/paternity leave) or in an ongoing way (e.g. flexible working hours). While some parents (usually mothers) leave the labour force for an extended period of time to raise children, many continue to work, using ‘family friendly’ provisions where possible. This article discusses how families where at least one parent is employed negotiate the claims of work and caring for children.


Paid work and families
This article draws on the Census of Population and Housing, the ABS June 2002 Labour Force Survey, the ABS 2000 Survey of Employment Arrangements and Superannuation, and the ABS 1999 Child Care Survey.

Couple families are those containing two persons in a registered or de facto marriage who are usually resident in the same household. They may or may not contain children. One-parent families are those containing a lone parent and at least one child. Both of these family types may also include other related individuals (e.g. a grandparent or cousin) who reside in the same household. Because of different populations in the surveys used, the families discussed are those with at least one child aged less than 15 years or at least one child aged less than 12 years.

Employed people are those aged 15 years and over who, during the reference week, worked for one hour or more for pay, profit, commission, or payment in kind in a job or business or farm, or who worked without pay in a family business, or who had a job, business or farm but were not at work.

An employee is a person who works for a public or private employer and receives remuneration in wages or salary, or is paid a retainer fee by his or her employer and works on a commission basis, or works for an employer for tips, piece-rates or payment in kind; or, is a person who operates his or her own incorporated enterprise with or without hiring employees.


Families over time
The 2001 Census showed that couple families where both parents were employed were the most common of all families with children aged less than 15 years (43%). Couple families where only one parent was employed were the next most common (28%), followed by one-parent families where the parent was not employed (11%), one-parent families where the parent was employed (10%) and couple families where neither parent was employed (8%). Since 1986, the proportion of couple families with children aged less than 15 years where only one parent is employed has declined, while the proportion of couple families where neither parent is employed has remained stable. Families with other working arrangements have increased over the same time period.

FAMILIES(a) AND PARENTS' LABOUR FORCE STATUS(b)
Graph - Families(a) and parents' labour force status(b)

(a) With children aged less than 15 years.
(b) Excludes families where one parent was temporarily absent on census night, and families where a parent did not state his or her labour force status.

Source: ABS 1986-2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


This changing distribution of families partly reflects a growing dependence among couples on two incomes, for various economic and lifestyle reasons. Women with children aged less than five years are more likely to be in the labour force than in the past (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Work: national summary table), suggesting that mothers may be returning to work sooner after the birth of children.

The changing distribution of families is also associated with the increase in divorce. This has led to a greater proportion of lone parents, many of whom face the challenge of balancing family and work in the absence of a resident partner. The increase in the proportion of couple families where both parents work, and in the proportion of one-parent families, has led to a corresponding decline in the proportion of couple families where only one parent works.

Associated with these changes in families and parents' working arrangements, between 1986 and 2001, the proportion of women aged 15-24 years who were studying increased from 36% to 56%. At the same time, women's participation in the labour force across the years when they are most likely to have children (i.e. 25-34 years) increased from 61% to 70%. These changes in education and work participation have gone hand-in-hand with women’s greater aspirations to have a challenging, rewarding career and to be financially independent.4

Families and employment
The June 2002 Labour Force Survey showed that more than half (57%) of all couple families with children aged less than 15 years were those where both parents were employed. It was more common for families to have a father employed full-time and a mother employed part-time than for both parents to be employed full-time (34% compared with 19%). Men are therefore more likely to be the primary earners even when their partners work.

COUPLE FAMILIES(a): LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF PARENTS - 2002
Father’s labour force status
Employed full-time
Employed part-time
Unemployed
Not in the labour force
Mother’s labour force status
%
%
%
%

Employed full-time
19.2
1.7
0.4
1.2
Employed part-time
33.9
2.2
0.6
1.1
Unemployed
1.8
*0.2
0.5
*0.2
Not in the labour force
28.1
2.2
2.0
4.5

(a) With children aged under 15 years.

Source: ABS June 2002 Labour Force Survey.


The working hours of parents within families are also influenced by the age of children. Children aged less than 5 years generally require more parental care and supervision than children who are school-aged. Reflecting this, in couple families where the youngest child was aged less than 5 years, 71% of couples worked under 60 hours per week, compared with 53% of couples where the youngest child was aged 5-14 years.

COMBINED WEEKLY HOURS WORKED(a) IN EMPLOYMENT BY PARENTS IN COUPLE FAMILIES(b) - 2002
Graph - Combined weekly hours worked(a) in employment by parents in couple families(b) - 2002

(a) Hours worked refers to hours actually worked during the reference week, where one, both or neither parent was employed.
(b) With children aged less than 15 years.

Source: ABS June 2002 Labour Force Survey.


Employed lone parents tend to work fewer hours than employed parents who have partners to share domestic responsibilities. In 2002, around 38% of employed lone parents worked less than 20 hours per week, and a similar proportion (42%) worked 20-39 hours per week. However, lone parents were less likely to be in the labour force than parents in couple families. Close to a third of lone fathers (30%) and almost half of lone mothers (47%) were not in the labour force.

ONE-PARENT FAMILIES(a): LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF PARENT - 2002
Father
Mother
%
%

Employed full-time
48.6
16.8
Employed part-time
13.3
27.2
Unemployed
8.3
8.9
Not in the labour force
29.8
47.0

Total
100.0
100.0

(a) With children aged under 15 years.

Source: ABS June 2002 Labour Force Survey.


Maternity/paternity leave
Under Australia's current system, male and female permanent employees are entitled to 52 weeks of unpaid maternity/paternity leave after 12 months with the same employer.5 Paid maternity/paternity leave is additionally available to some employees. In 2000, 44% of male employees and 45% of female employees had access to this type of leave in their main job. Full-time employees were more likely to have access than part-time employees (50% of men and 64% of women working full-time had entitlements, compared with 7% of men and 25% of women working part-time). Public sector employees were around twice as likely to have access as private sector employees (73% of men and 71% of women in the public sector, compared with 37% of men and 36% of women in the private sector).

Entitlement to paid maternity/paternity leave is also associated with the length of time employees have spent in their current job. In 2000, employees who had been in their current job for 5 years or more were more likely to have entitlement to paid maternity/paternity leave (53% of male employees and 58% of female employees) than employees who had been in their current job for less than 2 years (32% of male employees and 33% of female employees). In 1998, around a fifth (19%) of employees who had children aged less than 6 years indicated that they had taken leave of 6 weeks or more (either paid or unpaid) when their youngest child was born.3

EMPLOYEES(a): PAID MATERNITY/PATERNITY LEAVE ENTITLEMENTS - 2000
Entitled to paid maternity/paternity leave
Males
Females
%
%

Working
Full-time
50.4
64.3
Part-time
7.0
24.5
Sector
Public
73.0
71.3
Private
36.8
36.0
Length of time in current job
Less than two years
31.5
32.6
2-5 years
42.1
44.5
5 years and over
52.7
57.5

Total
43.5
45.1

(a) Employees in their main job.

Source: ABS 2000 Survey of Employment Arrangements and Superannuation.


International comparison
In June 2000, the International Labour Organisation introduced a new Maternity Protection Convention (ILO 183) and Recommendation (Recommendation 191). The convention supports 14 weeks of paid leave and applies to all employed women.5 Many countries provide other leave to parents surrounding the birth of a child, such as paternity leave for fathers. The current statutory childbirth-related leave provisions for selected countries are outlined below.

CHILDBIRTH-RELATED LEAVE PROVISIONS - 1998-2002
Paid leave
Duration of unpaid leave
Duration
Proportion of wages paid
weeks
weeks
%

Australia
(a)52
0
..
Canada
(b)
52
55
Ireland
14
18
70
Japan
52
14
60
Korea, Republic of
8
0
..
New Zealand
(b)
12
(c)100
Spain
156
(d)16
100
Sweden
(b)
(d)90
(e)80
United Kingdom
13
(f)18
(g)90
USA
12
0
..

(a) Only available for employees with 12 months of continuous employment with the same employer.
(b) Unpaid leave available but duration not specified.
(c) 100% or a flat rate is paid, whichever is less. May opt for parental tax credit instead of paid leave.
(d) Additional paid leave is available for multiple births.
(e) 80% is paid for the first 78 weeks; thereafter a flat rate is paid.
(f) Additional paid leave of 11 weeks is available for women who have worked with their employer for one year or more, paid at a rate which varies by employment.
(g) Six weeks are paid at 90%; the remaining 12 weeks are paid at a flat rate.

Source: The Clearinghouse on International Developments in Child, Youth and Family Policies at Columbia University, Maternity, Paternity and Parental Leaves in the OECD Countries, 1998-2002 <www.childpolicyintl.org/issuebrief/issuebrief5table1.pdf>, accessed 17 February 2003.


Flexible working arrangements
In 1999, just over half (53%) of all families with at least one parent employed and with children aged less than 12 years reported using some form of flexible working arrangement to care for children. In general, flexible working hours were the most commonly used arrangement (33% of all families with an employed parent used this arrangement), followed by permanent part-time work (23%).

Couple families with only one employed parent were predominantly made up of a father who was employed and a mother who was not employed. Compared with other families, their use of working arrangements to care for children was relatively low (19%). In contrast, couple families where both parents were employed were more likely to use working arrangements to care for children, although there were notable differences in their use of mothers' and fathers' working arrangements. Over two-thirds (70%) of these families used mothers' working arrangements to care for children, and a third (33%) used fathers' working arrangements. This suggests that even when both parents are working, women still tend to be the primary givers of care, and are more likely than their partners to organise their work around child care responsibilities.

One-parent families were also likely to use working arrangements to care for children (60%). The difference between mothers and fathers in their use of working arrangements was less marked for lone parents than for parents in couple families. Around 62% of employed lone mothers used working arrangements to care for children, compared with 44% of employed lone fathers.

FAMILIES WITH AT LEAST ONE PARENT EMPLOYED(a): WORKING ARRANGEMENTS USED TO CARE FOR CHILDREN - 1999



Couple families






Both parents employed(b)





One parent employed

Fathers' use

Mothers' use

One-parent families

Total(c)





%

%

%

%

%

Used working arrangements(d)

18.6

33.1

69.8

60.2

52.9


Flexible working hours

10.9

22.7

37.7

36.9

32.5


Permanent part-time work

2.5

2.1

34.3

31.8

23.0


Work at home

4.1

9.6

16.9

10.1

13.5


Other

6.0

7.9

15.9

10.8

14.3

Did not use working arrangements

81.4

66.9

30.2

39.8

47.1









Total(e)

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0





'000

'000

'000

'000

'000









Total(f)

553.0

759.4

759.4

150.2

1,462.6


(a) With children aged under 12 years.
(b) Data for couple families where both parents are employed give figures for fathers' use and then mothers' use of working arrangements for the same families.
(c) Data are for either parent.
(d) Families could report using more than one working arrangement.
(e) Families where a parent did not state whether he or she used working arrangements have been excluded from these calculations.
(f) Includes families where a parent did not state whether he or she used working arrangements.

Source: ABS 1999 Child Care Survey.


Child care
In 1999, one-parent families where the parent was employed were the most likely to make use of formal care (regulated child care away from the child’s home) and/or informal care arrangements (non-regulated child care). Around 40% of these families used formal care and 67% used informal care. Couple families where both parents were employed were the next highest users of child care - 34% of these families used formal care while 50% used informal care. Couple families where neither parent was employed were the least likely to use child care, but some of these families still used formal (18%) and informal care (20%).

COUPLE FAMILIES(a): USE OF CHILD CARE - 1999
Graph - Couple families(a): use of child care - 1989

(a) With children aged under 12 years.
(b) Formal care is regulated child care away from the child's home, including preschool, long day care, before and after school care, occasional care and family day care.
(c) Informal care is non-regulated child care, including care given by family members (such as the child's siblings, grandparents or other relatives), friends or neighbours, and babysitters or nannies.

Source: ABS 1999 Child Care Survey.

ONE-PARENT FAMILIES(a): USE OF CHILD CARE - 1999
Graph - One-parent families(a): use of child care - 1999

(a) With children aged under 12 years.
(b) Formal care is regulated child care away from the child's home, including preschool, long day care, before and after school care, occasional care and family day care.
(c) Informal care is non-regulated child care, including care given by family members (such as the child's siblings, grandparents or other relatives), friends or neighbours, and babysitters or nannies.

Source: ABS 1999 Child Care Survey.


Reflecting these patterns, in 1999, work was most commonly cited as the main reason for using child care. It was given as the main reason by parents of 46% of children receiving formal care and parents of 45% of children receiving informal care. However, parents may use child care for reasons other than to balance family and work. Personal reasons, such as to undertake study, to go shopping, or to give parents a break or time alone, were also commonly given as the main reason for using child care, especially for children receiving informal care. Personal reasons were given by parents of 12% of children receiving formal care and 42% of children receiving informal care.


Other family care
Balancing family and work is not only a challenge for parents of young children. Labour force participation can also be affected by the need to care for family members who are elderly, sick, or have a disability. In 1998, carers had lower labour force participation rates than non-carers. Around half (51%) of primary carers were in the labour force (i.e. either employed or unemployed), compared with over three-quarters (77%) of non-carers.

PRIMARY CARERS(a) AGED 15-64 YEARS: LABOUR FORCE CHARACTERISTICS - 1998
Primary carers

%
Employed
45.0
Full-time
21.5
Often needs time off work because of caring role(b)
5.3
Part-time
23.5
Often needs time off work because of caring role(b)
5.5
Unemployed
6.0
Not in the labour force
49.0

Total
100.0

'000
Total
351.3

(a) A carer is a person who provides help or supervision with everyday activities to any person with a disability or long-term health condition, or to any person aged 60 years or over. The help or supervision must be ongoing or likely to be ongoing, for at least six months.
(b) At least once a week or more on average.

Source: Caring in the Community, Australia, 1998 (ABS cat. no. 4436.0).


Endnotes
1 Murphy, J. 2002, 'Breadwinning: Accounts of work and family life in the 1950s', Labour and Industry, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 59-75.
2 Bittman, M. 1999, 'Parenthood without penalty: Time use and public policy in Australia and Finland', Feminist Economics, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 27-42.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Career Experience, Australia, 1998, cat. no. 6254.0, ABS, Canberra.
4 Lesthaeghe, R. 2001, 'Postponement and recuperation: Recent fertility trends and forecasts in six Western European countries', paper presented at the IUSSP Seminar, Tokyo, 21-23 March 2001.
5 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) 2002, Valuing Parenthood: Options for Paid Maternity Leave: Interim Paper, HREOC, Sydney.

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