Work and family responsibilities through life

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The Australian Institute of Family Studies has prepared this Facts Sheet on work and family balance to support the 2008 National Families Week.

It is also available in PDF format for printing - facts sheet PDF (732 KB)*

 

Most Australians at some point face the challenges of balancing work and family responsibilities. The pressures that families face when negotiating these issues has long been a policy concern. Discussions of work and family balance are prominent in the media and indeed everyday conversations.

To support the 2008 National Families Week, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has prepared this Facts Sheet about work and family balance. The theme for Families Week in 2008 is "Work and family: Getting the balance right", which reflects the importance of encouraging Australians, particularly working parents, to find ways to more effectively achieve work and family balance.

Engagement in paid employment varies as we move through the various stages of life: finishing education, relationship formation, having children, caring for a sick or elderly family member, the arrival of grandchildren and retirement, for example. These life transition points are also often associated with changes in caring responsibilities.

Paid employment through life

Figure 1 shows the employment rates of men and women by age for 1996 and 2006. As young men and women leave school and complete tertiary education, employment rates increase rapidly. In 2006, the employment rate:

After age 20-24 years, the employment rates of men and women diverge quite sharply, reflecting the effects of childbearing and childrearing on women's labour force participation:

Over the decade 1996-2006, the employment rate of women in all age groups increased. The largest increases were for women aged 50-64 years: for women aged 50-54 years, the employment rate increased from 60% in 1996 to 73% in 2006; for those aged 55-59, it increased from 40% to 57%; and for those aged 60-64, it increased from 17% to 34%.

Between 1996 and 2006, there were also increases in employment rates for men in all age groups. While the changes were more modest than for females, the largest increases were for older males, with the employment rate of men aged 55-59 years increasing from 66% to 74% and of men aged 60-64 years, from 42% to 55%.

Figure 1: Employment rates, males and females by age, 1996 and 2006

Figure 1: Employment rates, males and females by age, 1996 and 2006

Note: People who did not state their labour forces status on the Census form have been excluded from the calculations.
Source: Census of Population and Housing, Australia, online tables.1

Hours worked

Australia has long full-time working hours by international standards. In 2006 in Australia, full-time employed men worked an average of 45.9 hours per week, compared to many OECD countries with averages of less than 43 hours per week (for example, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden).

At the same time, Australia has high rates of part-time employment, particularly for women. In 2006, 41% of employed women worked part-time, compared to an OECD average of 26%. Just 16% of employed Australian men worked part-time, compared to an OECD average of 8%.2

The mix between part-time and full-time employment varies through life. Figure 2 shows the proportion of employment that is part-time and the proportion that is full-time for men and women, according to age.3 Among employed women:

Figure 2: Full-time and part-time work, males and females by age, 2006

Figure 2: Full-time and part-time work, males and females by age, 2006

Note: People who did not state their labour forces status or hours on the Census form have been excluded from the calculations. People were classified as working part-time (less than 35 hours per week), full-time (35 hours or more), or away from work. The latter category has not been shown in this figure.
Source: Census of Population and Housing, Australia, online tables.4

For employed men at either end of their working life (15-19 years and 65 years and older), about half are employed part-time and half full-time. For other age groups, employment is mostly full-time. The proportion of full-time employment for men is higher than for women for all age groups.

Women's part-time employment is a key strategy used by Australian families to balance work and family responsibilities. Many of the women who are employed part-time are working quite short hours. Just over two in five (43%) of women who are employed part-time work fewer than 16 hours per week.

For women in 2008:5

Maternal employment and age of youngest child

The main influence on the lower employment rate of women in their late twenties and thirties is the effect of childbearing. Employment rates are lowest immediately following the birth of a child and then increase as mothers re-enter the workforce. Part-time work predominates for women in these age groups.

The best source of data on the employment of mothers with an infant is Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Figure 3 shows the proportion of mothers who have returned to work, and the hours they worked, across age groups of infants aged up to 14 months.6

Figure 3: Mothers' employment and hours worked by age of infant, mothers of infants, 2004

Figure 3: Mothers' employment and hours worked by age of infant, mothers of infants, 2004

Source: LSAC Wave 1, infant cohort (2004).

Employment of single and partnered mothers

Maternal employment rates increase as children grow up. But other events can also lead to changes in parents' participation in paid employment. In particular, family separation can have a major impact upon maternal employment, with single mothers having a much lower employment rate than partnered mothers, particularly while children are young. According to data from the ABS Labour Force Survey in 2007:7

Working hours of fathers with young children

The average working hours of fathers with a 4-5 year old child is 47 hours per week. One quarter of fathers usually work 55 hours or more per week.8

The long work hours of full-time workers has implications for the work-family balance and, not surprisingly, many of these workers would prefer to work fewer hours. Two of every five (40%) of full-time employed fathers say they would prefer to work fewer hours. Among fathers working 55 hours or more per week, 61% prefer to work fewer hours (Baxter, Gray, Alexander, Strazdins & Bittman, 2007).

Self-employment and working at home

For mothers, self-employment is often taken up as a means of combining work with family responsibilities, while fathers are less likely to take up self-employment for these reasons (Gray & Hughes, 2005). Often self-employment is undertaken, at least in part, from home. The 2006 ABS Time Use Survey provides information on the extent that different groups are self-employed and whether that employment was done more at home than elsewhere.9

Figure 4 shows that:

Figure 4: Employed males and females, percentage who are working at home and/or are self-employed (own account workers or employers) by life cycle stage, 2006

Figure 4: Employed males and females, percentage who are working at home and/or are self-employed (own account workers or employers) by life cycle stage, 2006Figure 4: Employed males and females, percentage who are working at home and/or are self-employed (own account workers or employers) by life cycle stage, 2006

Note: Self-employed workers are those defined as own account workers or employers, and excludes people self-employed in their own incorporated business, who are classified as employees.
Source: ABS 2006 Time Use Survey.10

Conclusion

Both paid employment and family responsibilities are a part of many people's lives. The nature of both of these varies across the life course. Changes in life stage, such as the birth of a child or the need to care for a sick family member often requires adjustments be made to paid employment. The more we know about the strategies people use to manage this balance, the better informed we will be in developing appropriate policies that help families at all stages of life.

References

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.

Gray, M., & Hughes, J. (2005). Caring for children and adults: Differential access to family-friendly work arrangements. Family Matters, 70, 18-25.

OECD (2007). OECD employment outlook, 2007.

 

This Facts Sheets was compiled by Dr Jennifer Baxter and Dr Matthew Gray.

 

Endnotes

1 Cat. No. 2068.0 - 2006 Census tables, 2006 Census of Population and Housing, Australia, labour force status by age by sex for time series, count of persons aged 15 years and over, based on place of usual residence.

2 OECD (2007) and OECD online employment statistics database.

3 Full-time employment is defined as working more than 34 hours per week.

4 Cat. No. 2068.0 - 2006 Census tables, 2006 Census of Population and Housing, Australia, labour force status by age by sex for time series, count of persons aged 15 years and over, based on place of usual residence.

5 ABS Monthly Labour Force data (ABS Monthly Labour Force spreadsheets, February 2008).

6 Data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), 2004.

7 ABS Monthly Labour Force data, Families Spreadsheets, June 2007.

8 Data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), 2004.

9 ABS 2006 Time Use Survey, calculated from the Confidentialised Unit Record File CD-ROM.

10 ABS 2006 Time Use Survey, calculated from the Confidentialised Unit Record File CD-ROM.


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