Annual Report 2006‚Äď2007

Child care and employment

This section is an edited extract from FaHCSIA's Social Policy Research Paper 30, Mothers and Fathers with Young Children: Paid Employment, Caring and Wellbeing, by Jennifer Baxter, Matthew Gray, Michael Alexander, Lyndall Strazdins and Michael Bittman, July 2007.

There is considerable variation in the types of child care used by Australian families. Furthermore, the options and decisions around combining paid employment and how children are looked after are quite different for children of different ages. Child care for young children ranges from formal government-regulated centre and home-based child care settings to various informal unregulated arrangements that include, for example, care by grandparents, friends or nannies. This article focuses on child care for infants in Wave 1.

Just over one-third of infants had at least one regular child care arrangement. There were substantial differences in the use of child care according to family type and employment status (see Table 9). A higher proportion of employed single parents used some form of child care (80.9 per cent) than not-employed single parents (24.7 per cent). A high proportion of couple-parent families in which both parents were employed used some form of child care (65.4 per cent), although around one-third of these dual-employed families did not. In couple-parent families where only one parent was employed (usually the father), only 16.7 per cent had regular care arrangements for the infant. This is similar to the rate for couple-parent families in which neither parent was employed (13.3 per cent).

Employed single-parent families had higher rates of use of child care than couple-parent families in which both parents were employed (see Table 9). This is not surprising, given that couple parents may be more easily able to coordinate their time and work arrangements so that non-parental care is not required.

Families with infants were more likely to use informal care only (20.5 per cent) than formal care only (10.8 per cent) (see Table 9). Employed single parents were more likely than dual-employed parents to use a mix of formal and informal care.

Table 9 - Child care use by family type and parental work status, infant cohort

  Single Couple Total
Not employed Employed Neither employed One employed Both employed
% % % % % %
Parental care only
Formal care only
Informal care only
Both formal and informal
(n = 385)
(n = 91)
(n = 238)
(n = 2,555)
(n = 1,834)
(n = 5,103)

Note: Numbers have been rounded and may not add to the total.
Source: Growing Up in Australia, Wave 1

The reason for the use of child care was clearly related to parental employment, with the majority of employed single parents and dual-employed couples citing parental work or study commitments as the main reason for using child care (92.9 per cent and 91.2 per cent respectively). This was true regardless of whether formal or informal care was the main type of care used.

Child care in working families

A significant proportion of working families (defined as employed single-parent families, and couple-parent families where both parents were employed) were able to manage paid work responsibilities without using non-parental care (19.1 per cent of employed single parents and 34.6 per cent of employed couple-parent families).

An important question is: what factors are related to the probability of working families using non-parental care for their infants and, for those families who are using non-parental care, what factors1 are associated with using formal care compared to informal care?

The data was explored using multivariate techniques, which drew out the associations between family characteristics, primary carer's job characteristics, and care arrangements. Only those relationships found to be statistically significant are included in the following discussions.

The following relationships were found:

Specific job characteristics of the primary carer also had an association with having only parental care:

Formal versus informal care

Differences in the use of formal care versus informal care were also identified for working families. Key relationships found include:

Parental-only care

A possible mechanism for couple working families to only have parental care is for them to share the care of children. In other words, parents schedule their hours so that one parent is available to care for the child while the other is working.

Growing Up in Australia can provide some insight into this through a question that asks the primary carer whether there are any regular times during the week when their partner takes care of the child while they are not there (for example, to go to work or do the shopping). The primary carer is then asked for how many hours the child is looked after by the partner only.

Table 10 shows that the partner spent some time caring for the child in 52.4 per cent of couple working families who used no formal or informal care. Looking from the other perspective, the primary carer was the sole carer of the child in 47.6 per cent of these dual-employed, parental-care-only families. In these families, it seems that the primary carer was working while also being responsible for their children.

Partners of self-employed primary carers were the least likely to provide care, and when they did, they provided care for fewer hours than the mean working hours of self-employed primary carers. That is, it appears that self-employed primary carers were the most likely to be working while simultaneously caring for children. For permanent/ongoing and casual employees, when their partners did provide care, they did so for an amount of hours that was similar to the mean hours worked by permanent/ongoing or casual employees, suggesting a dovetailing of hours in these families.

Table 10 - Partner involvement in care by job type of primary carer, dual-employed couples who use no child care, infant cohort

  Self-employed Permanent/ongoing employee Casual employee Total
Partner cares for the child (%)
Weekly number of hours of care by partner (hrs)
Mean weekly hours worked by primary carer
Partner does not care for child
Partner does care for child
(n = 304)
(n = 191)
(n = 143)
(n = 638)

Source: Growing Up in Australia, Wave 1

1. In considering these associations, it should be kept in mind that other factors, not considered here because relevant information was not collected in Wave 1 of Growing Up in Australia, are also likely to be important. These include affordability or availability of different care options, and views on what is appropriate care for children at different ages.

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