Annual Report 2004

Highlights from Wave 1

In this section, some descriptive data from Wave 1 are presented. The conceptual model underlying LSAC is that children's development is determined by a large number of interacting factors in the environment as well as by their own intrinsic characteristics. To understand this complex process fully requires sophisticated analyses and data from further waves. While causal conclusions cannot be drawn from Wave 1, the data presented here suggest some of the many areas worthy of further detailed examination. Note that the following analyses have used weighted data.

Who are the LSAC children?

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of LSAC children were living with both biological parents - 89 per cent of the infant cohort and 82 per cent of the older cohort. For the infant cohort, 10 per cent lived with a lone biological parent (in almost all cases, this was the mother). For the older cohort, the passage of time had allowed for a number of other family forms to become more prevalent, including an increase in lone biological parents to 15 per cent (96 per cent of whom were mothers). Two per cent of households in this older cohort had children living with a step-parent.

Concerns have recently been voiced about the falling fertility rate in Australia (currently 1.75), which parallels similar trends overseas (Weston et al. 2004). More women are having no children, or postponing having children, with estimates now that one-quarter of women currently of child-bearing age will not have children (ABS 2002). Family sizes have also decreased (de Vaus 2004).

Nevertheless, most LSAC children were not only children. Among the infant cohort, 39 per cent were the only child in their family, 36 per cent had one other sibling, 17 per cent had two siblings, and 8 per cent had three or more siblings. Among the 4-5 year cohort, only 11 per cent were still an only child, 47 per cent had one other sibling, 27 per cent had two siblings, and 14 per cent had three or more siblings. Hence, one-quarter of infants and more than 40 per cent of 4-5 year olds were already in families with more than two children. It can be expected that many of the families will continue to grow in size.

The study child was one of a multiple birth in 3 per cent of each cohort.

Employment and income

One of the key research questions for LSAC concerns the impact of parental labour force participation and the family's economic status on child outcomes. A striking demographic change in recent decades has been the rise in maternal employment. Consistent with previous research (see Gray et al. 2002, 2003), rates of maternal employment were strongly related to the age of the study child, whereas paternal employment was not. At the time of the interview, the overall rate of maternal employment in the infant cohort was 39 per cent, whereas for fathers it was 92 per cent. In the 4-5 year old cohort, the rate of employment for mothers was 54 per cent, while that of the fathers was similar to the infant cohort (93 per cent).

The employment rate of parents varied by family type and across the two cohorts (see Figure 2). Mothers of 4-5 year olds in both lone and couple parent families were more likely to be working than lone and couple mothers of the infant cohort. In contrast, for couple fathers, the employment rate was identical between the two cohorts (93 per cent for both). In both cohorts, however, lone mothers (18 per cent for infants and 40 per cent for 4-5 year olds) were less likely to be in employment than couple mothers (42 per cent for infants and 57 per cent for 4-5 year olds). No comparison with lone fathers was possible since there were only three lone fathers in the infant cohort and 37 lone fathers in the 4-5 year old cohort.

Figure 2. Parental employment rates by family type and cohort

Parental employment rates by family type and cohort

While mothers started or resumed paid work at varying times after the birth of the study child, a very similar proportion of mothers in both cohorts had resumed or commenced paid work by the time the child was six months old. Figure 3 (over page) shows that for 10 per cent of 4-5 year olds, their mother had returned to work before they were three months old, while for another 12 per cent, their mother returned when they were aged between three and six months old. The corresponding figures for infants were 10 and 15 per cent respectively.

Figure 3 also shows that for 4-5 year olds, a further 19 per cent of their mothers had returned to work when they were between six and twelve months old. This indicates that for two in five children, their mother had returned to work within their first year. Of the remaining three in five children, about half had mothers who remained out of the paid workforce up until the time of the interview. Thus at the time of the interview, 68 per cent of 4-5 year old children had mothers who had returned to paid employment at some point since they had been born. The fact that only 54 per cent of the mothers of this older cohort were actually in employment at the time of the interview is largely explained by these mothers having had additional children (almost half of the 4-5 year olds already had at least one younger sibling).

Figure 3. Age of child when mother started or resumed paid work (4-5-year-old children)

Age of child when mother started or resumed paid work (4-5-year-old children)

Most of the mothers who were in employment at the time of interview were working part-time. Among mothers of infants who were in paid employment:

Mothers of 4-5 year olds who worked part-time tended to work for more hours than mothers of infants; the percentage working full-time hours, however, was the same. Among mothers of 4-5 year olds who were in paid employment:

In contrast, more than nine-in-ten working fathers were working 35 or more hours per week.

Combining work and family

On the whole, parents had quite a positive view of work, both in terms of its impact on them (around 70 per cent of parents agreed that working made them feel more competent) and their children (49 per cent felt that their working had a positive effect on their children, while a further 37 per cent felt the effect was neither positive nor negative). Most parents disagreed with the statement that family time was less enjoyable due to work.

However, when asked what hours they would prefer to work, taking into account the impact on their income, a substantial number of parents indicated that they would like to work fewer hours than they do now (see Figure 4).

This is consistent with the fact that working parents were more likely to indicate that they felt rushed (47 per cent of working parents stated that they felt rushed always or often, as compared to 36 per cent of non-working parents).

Figure 4. Parents' preference for work hours

Parents' preference for work hours

Parental income

For 34 per cent of infants and 32 per cent of 4-5 year olds, the combined parental income per week (before tax) was less than $800. Many children were in families with incomes between $800 and $1499 per week (40 per cent of infants and 38 per cent of 4-5 year olds). Higher incomes of $1500 or more per week were experienced in 26 per cent of the infants' families and 31 per cent of the 4-5 year olds' families.

Incomes are of course related to parental employment. For mothers of infants who were employed at the time of the interview, their median gross income from paid work was $375 per week. For the older cohort, this was $479 per week, probably reflecting the greater number of hours that mothers tend to work as their children get older. For working fathers, the median gross income was similar in the two cohorts - $862 per week for infants and $900 per week for the older cohort. In many families, children's experience is one where their father earns considerably more than their mother.

Quality of neighbourhood

Community-level influences are increasingly being recognised as important contributors to children's development. For young children, these influences are usually mediated through their impact on parents and families (see, for example, Brooks-Gunn, Duncan and Aber 1997). Characteristics such as the availability and safety of playgrounds and other amenities, access to appropriate services, and broader measures of "social capital" are among the relevant factors assessed in LSAC.

Most children live in neighbourhoods that are considered by parents to be safe and to have good facilities. Around nine out of ten parents agreed that theirs was a safe and clean neighbourhood and around three-quarters agreed the neighbourhood had good parks, playgrounds and play spaces. Three-quarters of parents agreed that they had access to close, affordable, regular public transport and access to basic services such as banks and medical clinics in their neighbourhood. Nine in ten agreed they had access to basic shopping facilities. The two lowest ranked items were "street lighting", and "footpaths and roads", but even here two-thirds agreed they were good.

Table 2 presents the overall regional trends and shows that, in both cohorts, parents in capital cities were happier with the facilities in their neighbourhood than were parents outside the capital cities.

Table 2. Neighbourhood characteristics by region (per cent)
Proportion of parents who agreed that: Infants 4-5 year olds
Capital city Rest of state Capital city Rest of state
This is a safe neighbourhood 90.2 91.9 90.3 91.9
This is a clean neighbourhood 92.4 95.0 92.3 93.7
There are good parks, playgrounds and play spaces in this neighbourhood 79.2 68.2 80.4 70.5
There is good street lighting in this neighbourhood 73.9 60.5 77.2 59.2
The state of footpaths and roads is good in this neighbourhood 69.1 53.7 73.2 58.5
There is access to close, affordable, regular public transport in this neighbourhood 85.8 53.7 85.8 52.5
There is access to basic shopping facilities in this neighbourhood 93.3 82.8 93.2 83.3
There is access to basic services such as banks, medical clinics, etc. in this neighbourhood 83.2 67.4 83.0 65.3
There is heavy traffic on my street or road 33.0 34.2 30.7 37.4

To aid further analysis, the Australian Bureau of Statistics SEIFA indices of disadvantage (ABS 2003) at the postcode level are linked to the LSAC data. It will be possible to examine the relationship between these indices and parents' satisfaction with their neighbourhoods and available services. Furthermore, the direct and indirect ways in which neighbourhood characteristics impact on children's development will be a focus of further analyses. While relationships can be expected to be complex, parental satisfaction and stress may be important mediators of the impact of neighbourhood disadvantage.

Breastfeeding and weight

Breastfeeding is linked to a number of important child outcomes including reduced prevalence of obesity and asthma and improved cognitive outcomes. The National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC) dietary guidelines (NHMRC 2003) consider that an initiation rate in excess of 90 per cent, and 80 per cent of mothers breastfeeding at six months, are achievable goals in Australia. The 2003 dietary guidelines also recommend "exclusive" breastfeeding (the consumption of breastmilk only) to the age of six months, a change from the previous guidelines (NHMRC 1996) which recommended exclusive breastfeeding for the first four to six months.

As shown in Table 3, the proportion of babies who start breastfeeding is around 90 per cent, compatible with the NHMRC goal. However, the length of time babies are breastfed falls below the guidelines. In both cohorts, by about six months only around one-half of all babies were still being breastfed, as compared to the 80 per cent goal. The numbers being breastfed dropped quickly after six months. In the 4-5 year old cohort, 72 per cent had ceased breastfeeding by age one.

The data also indicate that many babies are starting solids earlier than the 2003 dietary guideline recommendation. In the infant cohort, 37 per cent of babies aged four months or older had commenced solid foods on a regular basis (at least twice a week for several continuous weeks) by the age of four months, with the great majority of these starting at or just before four months, and 91 per cent of infants aged six months or older had commenced solids before six months of age. Further analysis is required to understand these trends and to begin to draw out possible implications for children's outcomes.

Table 3. Age at which child stopped being breastfed (per cent)
  Infants* 4-5 year olds
Never breastfed 9.3 10.7
Less than 1 month 12.2 10.7
1 to up to 3 months 11.0 9.5
3 up to 6 months 15.4 14.4
6 months or more 52.1 54.7
Note: *Restricted to infants who were at least 6 months old at the time of the interview

Obesity is becoming a significant problem amongst the Australian child population and diet is a major contributor to weight problems. Research from South Australia suggests that obesity may be starting at a much younger age than in the past (Vaska and Volkmer 2004), yet we have very little national trend data on its prevalence, particularly for young children. LSAC seeks to fill this gap.

Based on measurements of height and weight taken at the time of the interview, 79 per cent of the 4-5 year olds were assessed as having a body mass index that was within the normal range for a child of that age (see Cole et al. 2000). However, 15 per cent were classified as overweight and a further 6 per cent were assessed as being obese. Girls (23 per cent) were more likely than boys (20 per cent) to be overweight or obese.

The above figures contrast with what parents thought about their child's weight. While 82 per cent of parents indicated they thought their child was of a "normal weight" and 14 per cent thought their child was "underweight", only 5 per cent of parents considered their child to be overweight. Most of the parents of overweight children (86 per cent) said they were not worried about their child's weight.

Most experts agree that being obese does matter (for example, Catford and Caterson 2003; Waters and Baur 2003). Worryingly, of the children classified as obese, 52 per cent of parents indicated their child was of a "normal weight" or "underweight" and 50 per cent were not worried about their child's weight.

Children's diet

The dietary intake of the 4-5 year old cohort was assessed by asking whether certain types of foods were consumed once, more than once, or not at all in the previous 24 hours. The dietary intake of some types of foods for 4-5 year olds in a specified 24-hour period is collated in Table 4. While the data collected are based on the number of occasions of consumption, rather than servings (which is the basis for dietary guidelines), the proportion of children consuming little or no fresh fruit or vegetables (16 per cent) and those having high fat foods at least three times a day (28 per cent) is worth noting. For example, the NHMRC 2003 dietary guidelines recommended consumption of between one and two servings of fruit and two to four of vegetables (including legumes) each day for children aged four to seven years. Further analysis of the diet data will be able to ascertain the relationship of diet to concurrent and future weight problems, as well as other health outcomes.

Table 4. Food and drink consumed by 4-5 year old children in previous 24 hours (per cent)
Food Not at all Once At least
At least
three times
At least
four times
Fresh fruit, cooked or raw vegetables 4.7 11.5 21.3 28.0 35.6
Fruit juice*, soft drink or cordial 19.6 22.0 35.0 14.8 8.6
High fat foods 9.2 29.3 33.3 17.9 10.4
Note: *Considered to be a high-sugar drink, although is available for separate analysis within the data set

Childhood injuries

Injuries are the leading cause of child mortality in Australia (Al-Yaman, Bryant and Sargeant 2001) and repeat injuries can impact on subsequent development. Over the previous 12 months, 7 per cent of infants and 18 per cent of the older cohort were hurt, injured or had an accident that needed medical attention from a doctor or hospital. Of the children who were hurt or injured, in the vast majority of cases (90 per cent of infants and 74 per cent of 4-5 year olds) there was only one incident. For infants, most injuries were unspecified, whereas cuts or scrapes and broken or fractured bones were most common for the older cohort. The broad LSAC data set will be able to help identify factors in the child's environment that are related to the occurrence of injuries.

Child care

The expansion in the use of non-parental child care has raised concerns about possible long-term effects on children's development. At the same time, child care can provide a range of valuable experiences to the child. LSAC gathers data on the quantity and quality of regular non-parental care a child receives, and so will be able to shed important light on the influence of care arrangements on developmental outcomes.

In the previous month before the survey, 35 per cent of infants had been looked after by someone other than a parent at regular times during the week. Multiple care was experienced by a minority of infants. Of those who experienced non-parental child care, most infants (76 per cent) only had one type of care arrangement per week, and a further 21 per cent experienced two types of care.

Of those infants who experienced some type of regular non-parental care, the two most common types of care were with grandparents and day care centres (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Proportion of infants using regular child care

Proportion of infants using regular child care

LSAC provides an opportunity to understand the why parents use particular types of care. For parents using grandparent care or day care centres, the main reason for using child care was for the parents' work or study commitments. This was cited by 80 per cent of parents using day care centres and 72 per cent of those using grandparent care. The second most common reason for using grandparent care was the parent's sport, shopping, social or community activities (11 per cent); in contrast, this was cited as a reason by few users of day care centres (1 per cent). The second most common reason for using day care was to give the parent a break or time alone (9 per cent).

The time spent in care varied by type of care. On average, infants in day care centres spent longer in care than those using grandparent care (Figure 6), particularly where work/study was the main reason for use (21 hours compared to 15 hours).

Figure 6. Mean hours of child care for infants in regular child care
for parental work reasons or to give parents a break

Mean hours of child care for infants in regular child care for parental work reasons or to give parents a break

Preschool and child care use by 4-5 year olds

Preschool and attendance at day care centres provides an opportunity for developing school readiness skills. Almost all of the 4-5 year old children (95 per cent) attended a school, kindergarten, preschool or day care centre at least one day a week. In addition, 40 per cent of this cohort were also looked after by someone other than a parent at regular times during the week.

How are Australian infants and 4-5 year old children faring overall?

LSAC collected extensive information on many aspects of children's development. To facilitate analysis of these data, they were summarised into outcome indices for both infants and 4-5 year old children. For each cohort, three domain scores were created - health and physical development, social and emotional functioning, and learning and academic competency. These scores were then used to create an overall outcome index, which was given a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 10, so that approximately 70 per cent of the cohort scored between 90 and 110 (Sanson and Misson 2005).

Scores should thus be interpreted as indicating children's standing with respect to others in the cohort on these measures, rather than some absolute level of good or poor functioning. As there was some variation in actual age of children within cohorts, these scores were standardised by age (within cohort) so that the scores of all children within a cohort would be comparable. These outcome indices will be further tested for validity in later analyses.

Figure 7 shows the overall outcome index score and the scores on each of the three domains, comparing males and females from each cohort. For the infants, there were very small gender differences, with a slight trend for girls to score higher in the physical and learning domains. For the 4-5 year old children, gender differences were more pronounced. In particular, girls showed better outcomes in the learning and social/emotional domains. Such differences are commonly found at this age (Halpern 2003; Ruble and Martin 1998).

Figure 7. Overall outcome index score and three domain scores by gender and cohort

Overall outcome index score and three domain scores by gender and cohort

Children's outcomes were related to different family characteristics. Infants with no siblings had the highest scores in the learning domain, while for the 4-5 year old children, having no or only one sibling was associated with a higher learning outcome score. Smaller but contrasting differences were found for 4-5 year old children in the other domains: those with more siblings scored higher on the physical domain, and having four or more siblings was associated with the lowest social/emotional score. Understanding these differences of course requires analysis of many other factors such as parental education and income, family type and parenting differences across families.

The distribution of domain scores was used to identify children in the lowest 15 per cent and the highest 15 per cent of the distribution, who were classified as having "negative outcomes" or "positive outcomes" respectively in the relevant domain. The number of negative outcomes and positive outcomes recorded for each child provides a useful snapshot of their developmental status, and is used as a categorical form of the outcome index.

As shown in Figure 8, children's outcomes (classified in this way) were related to the education level of the primary parent (who was the mother in 97 per cent of cases). Lower education levels were associated with more negative outcomes and fewer positive outcomes. Figure 8 shows the association for those children with positive or negative outcomes in two or three domains; however, the association is just as pronounced for those children who had no or only one positive or negative outcome.

Figure 8. Percentage of children with 2 or 3 negative or positive outcomes on the
child outcome index by education level of primary parent (4-5 year old children)

Percentage of children with 2 or 3 negative or positive outcomes on the child outcome index by education level of primary parent (4-5 year old children)

Having a successful start to school is a predictor of children's later academic achievement, and their readiness to learn when they start school is an important part of this. LSAC includes measures of a number of factors that are involved in readiness to learn, the most central of which are incorporated in the learning domain of the outcome index. In particular, the 4-5 year old learning domain includes the results of two direct assessments that interviewers conducted with the children - an adapted version of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (Dunn and Dunn 1997) that assesses receptive language, and the "Who Am I?" test (de Lemos and Doig 1999), which assesses early literacy and numeracy skills.

Figure 7 showed a strong gender difference on learning domain scores for the 4-5 year old children. Figure 9 shows learning domain scores by attendance at educational care, day care centre or neither. The "educational care" group includes children who attended school or preschool of some kind (year one or pre-year one in school; preschool in school; other preschool) or a day care centre that also had a preschool program. Figure 9 shows that attendance in care with an educational focus is associated with higher learning scores compared to day care without such a program; and that the absence of any such care is associated with the poorest learning scores.

Figure 9. Mean learning domain score from the outcome index by
attendance at preschool/day care (4-5 year old children)

Mean learning domain score from the outcome index by attendance at preschool/day care (4-5 year old children)

Parenting infants and 4-5 year old children

The way that families function, including relationships among family members and parents' approaches to rearing their children, has an important impact on the growing child. Family functioning often mediates the effects of family transitions and family type (Sanson and Lewis 2001). LSAC contains the first-ever Australian national data on a number of aspects of family functioning, including parenting and parent-child relationships. While no causal connections can be made between these family functioning measures and Wave 1 child outcomes, their role in contributing to later child outcomes will be a focus of much interest.

One aspect of this is how parents feel about their parenting abilities. Parents were asked to self-assess their ability as a parent on a five-point scale ranging from "Not very good at being a parent" to "A very good parent". As Table 5 shows, the vast majority of parents felt they were doing a good job as a parent. Parents of infants were more likely to consider themselves good parents than those of the older children. For the infant cohort, only 2 per cent gave a negative rating, while 73 per cent felt they were better than average. For the 4-5 year old cohort, 3 per cent of parents rated themselves in a negative way, while 65 per cent felt they were better than average.

Table 5. Parental self-efficacy by cohort (per cent)
  Not very
good at
being a
being a
A better
A very
Infants 0.2 1.8 25.0 33.9 39.1
4-5 year olds 0.3 2.8 32.0 34.7 30.1

It might be expected that first-time parents would be less confident about their parenting skills than those with older children. Alternatively, the time pressures on parents with more than one child might mean they have less time to devote to the parenting of each child and so parents may feel they are not as competent as those with only one child. A look at the LSAC data on birth order, however, reveals a less than straight-forward relationship with parent self-efficacy. For the infant cohort, the most positive ratings came from first-time parents. Where the infant was a third-born child, self-efficacy ratings were lowest. For the 4-5 year old cohort, the self-efficacy rating for first-time parents was almost identical to that where the child was a second or third child in the family. Only where the study child was fourth-born or higher did parents rate their parenting abilities more highly than for first-time parents.

Parents' views about their own parenting ability were associated with their child's social/emotional development. Figure 10 shows that, for 4-5 year olds, parents who considered themselves to be more competent at parenting tended to have children with higher scores on the social/emotional development domain. A similar but less striking pattern was found for infants.

Figure 10. Parenting self-efficacy by social/emotional development of the 4-5 year old children

Parenting self-efficacy by social/emotional development of the 4-5 year old children

Of course, in this first wave of data, we cannot indicate a causal direction. While less competent parenting could be leading to lower developmental outcomes, it could equally be the case that parents who are aware that their child is having difficulties in the social/emotional arena perceive themselves to be less competent at parenting.

LSAC also contains a number of multiple item scales that measure different aspects of parenting style, with each scale running from 1 to 5. Figure 11 shows scores on four parenting style scales for the 4-5 year old cohort. As expected, most primary parents (who are overwhelmingly the mother) rate their parenting quite positively, showing very high levels of warmth towards the child (for example, showing affection, enjoying times together), high levels of consistency and "inductive reasoning" (which refers to using explanations for rules and helping the child understand the consequences of their behaviour), and low levels of hostility (such as becoming angry and annoyed with the child).

Figure 11 shows that boys and girls are parented fairly similarly, apart from levels of hostile parenting which, although low overall, were higher for boys than girls. Across family type, 4-5 year olds in lone parent families experienced slightly lower levels of consistency in parental style and slightly greater levels of warmth and hostility. Overall, however, the findings indicate more similarities than differences across gender and family type.

For the infant cohort, only parental warmth and hostility were assessed. These showed little or no differences by gender or family type.

Figure 11. Parenting style scales by child's gender and family type (4-5 year old children)

Parenting style scales by child's gender and family type (4-5 year old children)

An association between parenting style and developmental outcomes is demonstrated in Figure 12. Here the warmth and hostility scores for children with negative outcomes in 0, 1, or 2 or 3 outcome index domains are shown. The pattern is similar for infants and 4-5 year olds: lower levels of parental warmth and higher levels of parental hostility are associated with a greater number of negative domains. As with parental self-efficacy, it is not possible to identify the direction of effects in these findings: a more challenging child may elicit less warmth and more hostility from parents, or a colder, more hostile style of parenting could help create developmental difficulties in the child. In all probability, both are true and bi-directional effects are operating. Multivariate approaches to analysis and further waves of data are needed to shed light on this. What can be said is that parenting style and children's developmental outcomes are associated with each other.

Figure 12. Parental warmth and hostility scales by number of negative domains and cohort

Parental warmth and hostility scales by number of negative domains and cohort

How do Australian infants and 4-5 year old children spend their time?

For the first time, we have a national picture of how infants and 4-5 year old children spend their time. An innovative part of LSAC was the inclusion of time-use diaries to record the child's activities over a randomly selected weekday and a randomly selected day in the weekend. These diaries were completed by the parents and covered an entire 24-hour period, except for any time the child's activities were unobserved, such as when they were in child care or preschool.

Such data are not collected in any of the national longitudinal studies overseas, and there are few other data available on children's time use in Australia. These data will help address the key research question about how children's activities (for example, outdoor activities, unstructured play, television viewing, reading, etc.) relate to outcomes such as family attachment, obesity and social skills.

Not surprisingly, infants spent a large part of their day, on average about 13 hours, asleep (see Figure 13). Their hours awake were largely a mix of playing, being physically cared for and being held and comforted. Playing took up a considerable proportion of time - about five hours a day. On average, one and a half hours were spent being bathed, having nappies changed and being dressed and about three hours were spent breastfeeding, eating and drinking.

Compared with the infants, the older children spent less time sleeping, on average ten and a half hours a day, and more of their day playing - more than six hours a day on average.

Figure 13. Average time spent on selected activities by infants and 4-5 year old children*

Average time spent on selected activities by infants and 4-5 year old children

Note: * More than one activity could be recorded at a time.

Table 6 shows the range of activities infants engage in while playing. There was much physical play at this age - around 70 per cent of parents reported play in the category of crawling, climbing and so on, and these children spent around three hours in the day in this form of activity. Much infant play (about three hours) was recorded as "other" play, which may include playing with toys or with other children, and perhaps "stationary" play for the very young infants such as lying on a rug, watching a mobile.

Table 6. How do infants play?
  Proportion who
undertook this
activity on the
diary day (%)
Of those who did
this activity,
mean duration
Mean duration,
all infants
Crawl, climb, swing arms or legs 69.8 2.9 2.0
Read a story, talked/sung to, sing/talk 58.5 2.2 1.3
Watching TV, a video or a DVD 45.5 1.4 0.6
Listening to tapes, CDs, radio, music 28.0 1.8 0.5
Colour/draw, look at book, puzzles 16.9 0.8 0.1
Other play, organised activities 82.2 3.0 2.4
Any play* 98.0 5.1 5.0
Note: * Since children are likely to do more than one thing at once (for example, crawling while listening to music), the duration of different play activities adds to more than the "any play" time. It should be kept in mind that the ages in the infant sample range from 3 to 19 months, and there will be considerable variation in the infants' type of play across this age range.

The activities of older children differed considerably from infants', as might be expected (see Table 7). The amount of time children spend watching television is a popular topic in public debate. The data show that 4-5 year old children are relatively heavy watchers of television. Based on the time-use diary results, 89 per cent of 4-5 year old children watched television, a video or a DVD, on average for 2.3 hours per day. This is more time than was spent walking, running or doing other exercise - activities that only 66 per cent of the 4-5 year old children engaged in, for 1.9 hours on average. For infants, watching television was not such a prevalent activity, but nonetheless, 46 per cent of infants were reported as watching television, a video or a DVD for an average of 1.4 hours per day.

About 70 per cent of children had experienced some reading, singing or talking activities on the nominated days. In the parent interview, just under half of all parents reported reading to their child every day of the previous week. Again, "other play" was often recorded, and is likely to include creative and pretend play such as playing dress-ups, and playing with toys and other children.

Table 7. How do the 4-5 year old children play?
  Percentage who
this activity
Of those who did
this activity,
mean duration
Mean duration,
all 4-5 year old
Read a story, talk/sing, talked/sung to 70.1 1.5 1.0
Colour, look at book, educational game 57.5 1.2 0.7
Watching TV, video, DVD, movie 89.3 2.3 2.1
Use computer/computer games 25.6 1.1 0.3
Listening to tapes, CDs, radio, music 26.9 1.2 0.3
Walking, riding a bicycle, or other exercise 65.6 1.9 1.2
Other play, other activities 69.3 2.6 1.8
Any play 98.8 6.4 6.3

LSAC attempts to redress the neglect in much research on the role of fathers in children's lives, and has gathered data about a number of aspects of fathers' involvement. For example, data from the time-use diary shed light on how much time fathers, in comparison to mothers, are with their children. For infants, most of their day was spent with their mother in the same room. On average, just under six hours was spent with both mother and father present, and just over seven hours was spent with the mother only. In comparison, on average less than one hour a day was spent by infants with the father when the mother was not present (Figure 14). The time infants spent alone with their father did increase slightly on weekends (around 13 minutes more than on weekdays).

Figure 14. Who children spend their time with*

Who children spend their time with

Note: * "Spending time with" is defined as "being in the same room as, or nearby if outside".

The picture is similar for older children. These children spent most of their day with either their mother and father, or their mother but not their father. These data corroborate other Australian findings that fathers continue to spend relatively little time as the primary carer of their children (Craig 2003).

Children spending time with non-resident parents

There is currently a great deal of interest in the level of involvement of non-resident parents (predominantly fathers) in the lives of their children. In Wave 1 of LSAC, where a child had a non-resident parent, primary parents were asked about their own and the child's relationship with the non-resident parent and, when there was no or little contact, the reasons for this. In later waves, it is hoped that data will be collected directly from non-resident parents.

About 11 per cent of infants and 17 per cent of the older children had a parent who did not live with them. As Figure 15 shows, around 20 per cent of both infants and 4-5 year old children did not see the non-resident parent. Infants were more likely to spend time with their non-resident parent on a daily or weekly basis, while 4-5 year olds were more likely to have once a fortnight or less frequent time together. Further analyses will be able to examine factors associated with the amount of time spent together, and its relationship to children's wellbeing.

Figure 15. Frequency of child spending time with non-resident parent

Frequency of child spending time with non-resident parent


The Wave 1 data of LSAC provide a unique insight into Australian children. Much of this information has never been collected before at a national level. In particular, the time-use diary data and the development of the outcome index are exciting initiatives. These findings, using simple analytic techniques, illustrate some of the richness in the Wave 1 LSAC data, at the same time as pointing towards the need for more sophisticated analyses and, in many cases, longitudinal data, in order to address some pressing issues around the development of young children in Australia today.


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