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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2006  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/07/2006   
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Contents >> Family and Community >> Fathers' Work and Family Balance

Fathers' Work and Family Balance

A father has many roles in a family, and balancing these roles with paid work can be an issue. In 2003, 91% of fathers with children aged under 15 years were employed with 85% employed full-time.

Traditional gender roles cast men as the main income provider or breadwinner in families and women primarily responsible for domestic and caring roles. With the increase in women's participation in the labour force, many mothers have less time available to undertake domestic activities. At the same time, there has been increasing recognition that the father's role and relationship with a child is important. (EndNote 1) A father can have many roles in the family, ranging from income provider to teacher, carer, playmate and role model. Therefore, balancing paid work and family responsibilities can be an important issue for both fathers and mothers in families.

This article examines the characteristics of fathers who live with their children, including living arrangements, patterns of employment arrangements within couple families with children, and use of working arrangements to balance work and family.

Data sources and definitions

Data for this article are drawn from several ABS surveys: the 1992 Family Survey, the 1997 and 2003 Family Characteristics Surveys, the monthly Labour Force Survey, the 2003 Persons Not in the Labour Force Survey, the 2003 Working Arrangements Survey and the 2002 Child Care Survey.

Fathers can be natural or step fathers of children. A natural father is one who is related to his child by birth or adoption, and a step father is related to his child solely through his relationship (or former relationship) with the child's natural mother. In this article fathers are restricted to those in families with dependent children aged 0–14 years who are usually resident in the household. An exception is the data sourced from the 2003 Working Arrangements Survey and the 2002 Child Care Survey where only fathers of children aged 0–12 years are included.

A child may be a natural, adopted, step or foster son or daughter of a couple or lone parent, usually resident in the same household, and without a child or partner of their own usually resident in the household.

A family consists of two or more persons, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering; and who are usually resident in the same household.


FATHERS AND FAMILIES


In 2003, there were over 5.5 million families in Australia and 87% of the population lived in a family household. Despite the growing numbers of couples without children (including those whose children have left home) and one-parent families in Australia, families consisting of a father, mother and child(ren) aged less than 15 years are still relatively common, accounting for around one-third (1.7 million) of all families in 2003.

In total, there were around 1.8 million fathers living with their children aged less than 15 years in 2003. Almost all (97%) of these fathers were in couple families, with the remaining 3% (or 58,000) being lone fathers.

Of the 3.9 million children aged less than 15 years in 2003, 80% lived with both a father and mother, 2% were in lone father families and 18% were in lone mother families. Among the 3.2 million children who lived with a father, 95% were with a natural father, while 5% lived with a step father.


FAMILY TYPE OF FATHERS WITH CHILDREN AGED 0–14 years — SELECTED YEARS

1992
1997
2003
2003
'000
'000
'000
%

Couple families with children
1 721.1
1 703.9
1 738.1
96.8
Lone fathers with children
37.0
52.4
57.7
3.2
Total fathers
1 758.1
1 756.3
1 795.8
100.0

Source: ABS 1997 and 2003 Family Characteristics Surveys and 1992 Family Survey.


AGE OF FATHERS


The age profile of fathers has been changing. Just as there has been a trend for delaying births by women, men have also been delaying parenthood.(EndNote 2) Additionally, some men may appear to arrive late to fatherhood due to starting a second family with a different partner. Most noticeable is the fall in the proportion of fathers in the younger age groups and the rise in the proportion of fathers in the older age groups.

In 1992, around one-third (35%) of fathers in families with children aged 0–14 years were aged less than 35 years. This proportion had fallen to little over one-quarter (26%) by 2003. Just under half (48%) of all fathers of children in this age range were aged 35–44 years old in 2003, similar to the proportion in 1992 (46%). The proportion of fathers aged 45 years and over increased from 19% in 1992 to 25% in 2003.

AGE OF FATHERS IN FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN AGED 0–14
GRAPH: AGE OF FATHERS IN FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN AGED 0–14


Nuptial and ex-nuptial births

In 2003, 68% of births were nuptial births, meaning that the parents were married at the time of the child's birth. Exnuptial births, where the parents are not in a registered marriage at the time of the child's birth, accounted for the remaining 32% of births that year.

With an exnuptial birth there is a chance that the father may not be aware of or otherwise acknowledge the child's birth. While the number of exnuptial births has more than doubled between 1983 and 2003, the number of births not being acknowledged (i.e. the father is not named on the birth certificate) has decreased slightly. In terms of total births, paternity-not-acknowledged births have decreased from roughly 5% of all births in 1983 to just under 4% in 2003. (EndNote 2)
BIRTHS — Selected years

1983
1993
2003
'000
'000
'000

Nuptial
206. 9
195.4
171.9
Total exnuptial
35.6
64. 9
79.3
Exnuptial, paternity acknowledged
23.0
53.0
70.0
Exnuptial, paternity not acknowledged
12. 7
11.9
9.4
Total births
242.6
260.2
251.2

Source: Births, Australia, 2003 (ABS cat. no. 3301.0)

LABOUR FORCE ARRANGEMENTS OF PARENTS IN COUPLE FAMILIES (a) BY AGE OF YOUNGEST CHILD — 2003

GRAPH:LABOUR FORCE ARRANGEMENTS OF PARENTS IN COUPLE FAMILIES (a) BY AGE OF YOUNGEST CHILD — 2003



FATHERS AS INCOME EARNERS

In 2003 in couple families with children aged under 15 years, fathers were more likely than mothers to be employed (91% compared with 62% respectively) and more likely to be employed full-time (84% compared with 24%).

The higher levels of engagement in employment seen among fathers reflects the divisions of couples' time between paid employment and caring/domestic activities. Employment dynamics within couple families are closely related to the age of the youngest child in the household. Mothers' employment patterns in particular are linked with the age of the youngest child while, overall, fathers' working patterns vary only slightly.

Nearly half (47%) of all families where the age of the youngest child was 0–2 years had only the father employed, compared with 17% where the youngest child was aged 12–14 years. Correspondingly, the tendency for both parents to be employed increased with age of youngest child from 45% in families with children aged 0–2 years to 71% in families where the age of the youngest child was 12–14 years.

While mothers' employment levels (both part-time and full-time) increased with the age of their youngest child, fathers' employment levels for both full-time and part-time work remained virtually unchanged for all age-groups of youngest child under 15 years.

NOT EMPLOYED FATHERS IN COUPLE FAMILIES(a) — 2003

Unemployed or not in the labour force; and for those not in the labour force the reason not actively looking for work.
%

Unemployed(b)
29.1
Not in the labour force
71.0
Did not want to work
29.2
Wanted to work but not actively looking for work
30.2
Permanently unable to work
9.0
Wanted to work and actively looking for work, but not available to start within four weeks
2.6
Total not employed
100.0

'000
Total not employed
162.7

(a) With children aged 0–14 years.
(b) Unemployed by definition requires the active search for work and availability to start work.

Source: ABS 2003 Persons Not In the Labour Force Survey.


STAY AT HOME FATHERS

Of the 1.7 million couple families with children aged 0–14 years in June 2003, there were 57,900 (or 3.4%) families where the father was not employed while mothers worked either full-time or part-time. A further 108,100 (or 6.3%) couple families with children aged less than 15 years had neither parent working.

Some couples may choose to have the father stay at home to undertake principal caring roles for children. For other couples, circumstances such as unemployment or an inability participate in the labour force (e.g. through disability) may necessitate the father staying at home. In September 2003, some 47,500 fathers (or 29% of those who were not employed) stated that they did not want to work. A greater majority (62%) did want to work and these included: 47,300 (29%) who were actively looking for paid work, 49,100 (30%) fathers who wanted to work but were not actively looking and a small number (4,200 or 3%) who wanted to work and were looking, but were not able to start. Fathers who were permanently unable to work made up 14,700 (9.0%) of the fathers that were not employed.


Fathers as carers

How much time fathers spend with their children is a question at the heart of much research over the past three decades. (EndNote 3) Paternal engagement, a father's direct contact with his child through caretaking and shared activities such as play or leisure, is one aspect of a father's involvement with his child. A common method of measuring a father's engagement is through time use studies. ABS Time Use Surveys were conducted in 1992 and 1997.

In 1997, on average, fathers of children aged less than 15 years did less than half as much of the direct caring of children than mothers (28 hours and 61 hours per week respectively). Fathers, however, spent considerably more time in activities relating to employment than mothers, reflecting traditional gender roles and family responsibilities (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Looking after the children, pp. 39–41).

Between 1992 and 1997, fathers had increased the amount of time spent in child care activities by an average of almost 47 minutes per week.


FATHERS' WORKING HOURS

In 2004–05, there was an annual average of 1.6 million employed fathers and 1.3 million employed mothers with children under the age of 15 years within both couple families and one-parent families. In these families, the vast majority (93%) of fathers who were employed worked full-time while most employed mothers worked part-time (60%).

Research has shown that fathers are expressing a desire for greater involvement with their children, (EndNote 1) and children would also prefer more time with their working fathers.(EndNote 4)

The proportion of employed fathers with children who work part-time, while low compared with mothers, has increased from 4% in June 1994 to almost 7% in June 2005. Yet fathers working full-time have maintained their working hours at around 42 to 43 hours per week on average over the 15 years to 2004–05. One-third (33%) of fathers working full-time in 2004–05 worked 50 hours or more per week, while 16% worked for 60 hours or more.

...OVERTIME WORKED

In many cases, working overtime contributes to the large number of hours worked. The proportion of fathers working regular overtime has increased from 46% in August 1993 to 50% in November 2003. Fathers had twice the level of regular overtime compared with mothers (24%).(EndNote 5) Given the vast majority (90%) of people working regular overtime in November 2003 were full-time employees, the higher proportion among fathers is partially explained by the higher proportion of fathers in full-time employment.

...PREFERENCE FOR WORKING HOURS

There were similarities in preferences for working hours between those fathers and mothers who worked full-time and who had primary school aged children. In November 2003, fathers who worked full-time were mainly satisfied with the hours they worked (56%) as were full-time working mothers (55%). Full-time working fathers and mothers also had similar levels of preference for working fewer hours (38% and 40% respectively).

Of the fathers working part-time, nearly half (47%) would have preferred to work more hours while just over one-fifth (22%) of mothers working part-time wanted more hours. That being said, just under half (45%) of fathers and two-thirds (67%) of mothers working part-time were satisfied with the hours they worked and did not want to change their hours.

PREFERENCE FOR WORKING HOURS OF PARENTS WITH CHILDREN AGED UNDER 12 YEARS — November 2003
GRAPH:PREFERENCE FOR WORKING HOURS OF PARENTS WITH CHILDREN AGED UNDER 12 YEARS — November 2003



FATHERS AND FLEXIBLE WORK ARRANGEMENTS

Employers and workplaces are increasingly acknowledging that workers need to be able to balance the demands of both the workplace and the family, including caring for children. A range of flexible working arrangements have been introduced over time to help parents with the work/family balancing act. Flexible work arrangements used by parents to help with the care of their children include flexible work hours, permanent part-time work and working at home.(EndNote 6)

In 1993, the option to work extra hours in order to take time off was available to 36% of fathers employed full-time with children under the age of 12 years. By 2002, this had increased to 45%. At the same time, 40% of full-time working fathers with children under the age of 12 years had flexible start and finish times, while 29% were able to choose their start and finish times on a day-to-day basis.

Although flexible work arrangements may be available to many employees, fathers may feel economic or social pressure not to use them.(EndNote 1) In 2002, 30% of fathers used some form of flexible working arrangements to help care for their children aged less than 12 years. This was an increase from 24% in 1993. In contrast, 70% of working mothers used flexible work arrangements in 2002.

Working fathers tended to use different flexible work arrangements to care for children than working mothers. The most frequently used arrangements used by fathers in 2002 were flexible working hours (22%) followed by working from home (9%).

Working fathers had lower levels of use of each of the flexible arrangements than working mothers. The arrangement with the greatest difference was the use of permanent part-time work. Part-time work is one of the most popular methods of balancing paid work and family commitments used by working mothers (35%) but is rarely used by fathers (3%).

SELECTED WORKING ARRANGEMENTS AVAILABLE TO EMPLOYED PARENTS WITH CHILDREN AGED UNDER 12 YEARS — 1991 and 2003

Fathers
Mothers


Full-time
Part-time
Full-time
Part-time




1993
2003
1993
2003
1993
2003
1993
2003
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Able to work extra hours in order to take time off
36.3
45.3
19.7
28.2
40.1
46.5
31.6
42.0
Start and finish times are not fixed
42.1
40.1
2
40.3
32.2
30.7
77.6
32.1
Able to choose times day-to-day
27.2
28.9
22.3
25.2
24.5
22.1
21.3
22.8

'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total employed parents of children under 12 years
966.7
1 046.8
50.7
73.4
260.6
290.1
410.0
545.8

Source: Working Arrangements, Australia, August 1993 (ABS cat. no. 6342.0) and Working Arrangements, Australia, November 2003 (ABS cat. no. 6342.0).

WORKING ARRANGEMENTS USED BY PARENTS TO HELP CARE FOR THEIR CHILDREN AGED UNDER 12 — Selected years
GRAPH:WORKING ARRANGEMENTS USED BY PARENTS TO HELP CARE FOR THEIR CHILDREN AGED UNDER 12 — Selected years


ENDNOTES
1 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 2005, Striking the balance: women, men, work and family, Discussion paper 2005, HREOC, Sydney.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Births, Australia, 2000, cat. no. 3301.0, ABS, Canberra.
3 Lamb M and Tamis-Lemonda C 2004, 'The role of the father: an introduction' in The role of the father in child development, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
4 Pocock, B and Clarke, J 2004, Can't buy me love? Young Australians' views on parental work, time guilt and their own consumption. Discussion Paper Number 61, The Australia Institute, Canberra.
5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Working arrangements, Australia, November 2003, cat. no. 6342.0, ABS, Canberra.
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Child care, Australia, June 2002, cat. no. 4402.0, ABS, Canberra.


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