Australian Bureau of Statistics
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1997
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/06/1997
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Family Functioning: Families and work
Employment is a major factor in the well-being of a family. For most families employment is the main source of income. Adequate and reliable income from employment gives a family access to the basic requirements for normal life, such as food, shelter, clothing, transport etc., as well as the ability to enjoy recreational activities such as holidays and entertainment. Besides earning money, employment can also increase an individual's self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose and belonging. Conversely, unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment, can mean that families struggle to achieve the basic requirements of life and often cannot afford activities like holidays or entertainment. Unemployment also affects children. Children in families where unemployment is persistent can grow up with no experience of family involvement in the labour force.
In Australia, in June 1996, there were 134,200 couple families with children aged 0-14 in which both partners were not in employment (8% of couple families with children aged 0-14). Conversely, there were 930,200 couple families with children aged 0-14 in which both partners were employed (54% of couple families with children aged 0-14). Data from earlier surveys show that the proportion of two-income families and families with no employment income have both been increasing. Between 1981 and 1996, the proportion of families with children aged 0-14 in which both parents worked increased by 13 percentage points, from 41% to 54%. The proportion of families with children aged 0-14 in which neither parent was employed also increased, from 5% in 1981 to 8% in 1996. Consequently, the proportion of families in which only one partner was employed has decreased.
LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF COUPLE FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN AGED 0-14, JUNE 1996
Source: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, Australia, (cat. no. 6224.0).
The social context
Changes in family employment patterns have come about because of the interaction between changing social mores and changes in the economy and the labour force. The restructuring of the labour force together with rising unemployment levels over the past two decades have influenced these trends. These have been accompanied by marked increases in the participation of women in the labour force, especially in part-time work (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Changing industries, changing jobs; Australian Social Trends 1994, Trends in part-time work; and Long-term unemployment).
Against the background of these broad-scale changes, other patterns are also discernible, though not easily explained. For example, women with an unemployed husband have much lower employment rates than women with employed husbands.1
LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF COUPLE FAMILIES WITH CHILD(REN) AGED 0-14
The age of children
The labour force status of parents is strongly related to the age of the youngest child in the family. The younger the youngest child, the greater is the likelihood that only one parent, generally the mother, will either not be in the labour force or, if she is, that she will be working part time. These patterns are consistent with the family responsibilities undertaken by mothers (see Australian Social Trends 1995, Family support).
In June 1996, 51% of mothers whose youngest child was under five years old were not in the labour force. Mothers whose youngest child was older, aged 10-14 years, were more likely to be working, with 72% employed.
Among working mothers, part-time employment was more common when the youngest child was under five years (66% of those who were employed, worked part time). Working mothers whose youngest child was aged 10-14 years were slightly more likely to be working full time than part time (52% of those employed, worked full time).
The labour force patterns of fathers were unaffected by the age of their children. The proportions employed were 89% for those with a youngest child aged under five and 90% for those whose youngest child was aged 5-9 years or 10-14 years.
The proportion of families in which neither the husband nor the wife was employed decreased slightly as the age of their youngest child increased; 9% of couple families with at least one child aged under 5 years; 7% of couple families in which the youngest child was aged 5-9 and 6% of families in which the youngest child was aged 10-14.
There is a distinct seasonal pattern to the labour force participation rates of mothers of children aged 0-14 years. In net terms, about 4-5% of them leave the labour force over the summer holidays, presumably to look after their children. After the holidays end they re-enter the labour force.
LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF THE PARENTS OF CHILDREN AGED 0-14, 1992
Source: Survey of Families in Australia (unpublished data).
SEASONAL VARIATIONS IN LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION
Source: Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6203.0).
The combined hours that couples with children work have increased over the past 10 years. This reflects both the increase in the time employees work in a week (see Australian Social Trends 1995, The working week) and the increase in the proportion of women who choose to work.
Between June 1986 and June 1996 the proportion of couple families with at least one child aged 0-14, in which the partners worked more than 60 combined hours per week, increased from 33% to 40%. The proportion that worked less than 30 combined hours per week also increased slightly, from 16% to 17% (this group includes couples that worked zero hours because neither partner was employed and couples that worked zero hours because the partner/s was on leave etc.). Similar changes were observed across specific age groups for the youngest child.
In June 1996, among couples whose youngest child was under five, 31% worked more than 60 combined hours per week and 19% worked fewer than 30 combined hours (including 9% of couples in which neither partner was employed). Among couples whose youngest child was aged 10-14, 53% worked more than 60 combined hours per week and 15% worked fewer than 30 combined hours per week (including 7% of couples in which neither partner was employed).
DISTRIBUTION OF COMBINED HOURS WORKED BY PARENTS IN COUPLE FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN AGED 0-14
Source: Labour force status and other characteristics of families (unpublished data).
Implications for families
The information presented demonstrates that the care of children is a major influence on the work patterns of, usually, the mother. This in turn influences the income of her family. Equally, having both partners working implies reduced time for family responsibilities and increased use of alternative child-care arrangements, which may require considerable expenditure.
There is little information about the impact of parental working arrangements on the well-being of their children. A small survey carried out by the Institute of Family Studies revealed some differences in the well-being of adolescents in different family circumstances. In the study adolescents were scored on a number of measures, such as health, warmth/sociability, sense of mastery or personal control over circumstances. The views of the parents on other well-being issues were also solicited. The study found that adolescents had the lowest scores when either both parents had no paid job or when the father had no paid job2.
Families in which both partners are unemployed are undoubtedly disadvantaged in many ways3. However, parents can be employed yet still have relatively low income if their jobs are low skilled or they work part time. This could be the case even in families in which both partners are employed.
LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF COUPLE FAMILIES WITH CHILD(REN) AGED 0-14, JUNE 1996(a)
Source: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, Australia (cat. no. 6224.0).
1 King, A. et al. Why do the Wives of Unemployed Men Have Such Low Employment Rates?, Social Policy Research Centre Reports and Proceedings No.125, December 1995, University of NSW.
2 Weston, R. 'Well-being of young people in different family circumstances', Family Matters, No. 36, December 1993.
3 McClelland, A. 'Long-term unemployment: costs and responses', The Australian Economic Review, Second Quarter 1993.
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