Annual Report 2007‚Äď2008

Working patterns and attitudes

The following section was prepared by Eliza Ahmed, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, making use of data from Waves 1 and 2.5. Unweighted data have been used in the analyses.

Participation in employment

Wave 2.5 results indicate that mothers3 with children aged 7-8 years are highly likely to be employed (73%). The age of the youngest child in the family was a critical factor, with mothers' participation in paid work becoming increasingly likely as their youngest child aged. For mothers whose study child was the youngest child in the family, the employment rate increased from 66% when the child was aged 4-5 years (Wave 1) to 80% three years later, when the child was aged 7-8 years (Wave 2.5).

However, the number of hours worked did not increase dramatically as the youngest child increased in age from 4-5 years to 7-8 years. The average hours worked was 28 hours per week for mothers whose youngest child was aged 7-8 years compared to 26 hours per week for those whose youngest child was aged 4-5 years.

While more than half (52%) of all working mothers whose youngest child was aged 7-8 years were satisfied with the hours they were working, 9% wanted to increase their hours and 38% indicated they would prefer to work less.

Attitudes toward employment

In Wave 2.5, all mothers were asked to indicate their attitudes toward a range of aspects of employment on a five-point scale ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree".

Attitudes towards employment were similar for mothers in both the B and K cohorts. Seventy per cent of all mothers agreed that having a job makes mothers a good role model for their children and another 65% believed that they would enjoy working regardless of money. While most mothers attached great value to paid work, a substantial proportion of mothers (67%) supported the opinion that mothers should be home outside school hours to care for their children.

About one-third of all mothers reported their job as being a stay-at-home parent (32%), and did not agree that it was important for them to have a paying job to be happy in life (35%).

Effects of employment

In Wave 2.5, employed mothers were asked to indicate on a five-point scale the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements relating to the perceived effects of employment on four domains: self, parenting, family, and child's schooling. Although the description focuses only on mothers in the K cohort, results relating to both cohorts are shown in Figure 10. Note that 60% of mothers with children aged 3-4 years (B cohort) were employed.

Figure 10: Effects of employment - graph

Figure 10: Effects of employment reported by mothers in paid work

For the effect of employment on self, most working mothers agreed that having work and family responsibilities gave their life more variety (80%), improved their competency (67%), and made them a more well-rounded person (64%). Two-thirds also agreed that the advantage of having a job was the opportunity to network and socialise with more people.

Most working mothers agreed that working helped them to appreciate the time that they spent with their children (64%) and that working had a positive effect on their children (57%). However, only one in three mothers (34%) agreed with the statement that working made them a better parent.

Some mothers indicated difficulties in finding child care, with 17% agreeing that organising suitable care for their child was difficult.

While most working mothers were positive about the impact of their work on self-development and parenting, there were concerns by some about the effect of employment on family life. Thirty-nine per cent of all working mothers agreed that they had missed out on home or family activities in which they would have liked to have taken part, and 29% perceived that their family time was less enjoyable and more pressured due to their work responsibilities.

Regarding the perceived effect of employment on children's schooling, 39% of all working mothers agreed with the statement that "my working has a positive influence on my child's attitude toward school", while 23% agreed that their work had a positive influence on their child's overall performance at school.

Employed mothers in the K cohort were also asked to rate on a five-point scale, ranging from "never" to "always", the extent to which their work stopped them from participating in activities relating to the school community. Nearly two-thirds of all working mothers indicated that their work sometimes or more often prevented them from volunteering for (63%) and visiting (61%) their child's class activities.

Concerns around involvement with the school community also emerged. Mothers indicated that their employment stopped them (sometimes or more often) from attending a school event where their child participated (50%), communicating with other mothers (49%), taking their child to out-of-school activities (36%), and contacting class teachers about their child (26%).

Reasons for not working

In Wave 2.5, mothers in the B cohort who were not working were asked to indicate the reasons for not being in employment.

A vast majority of mothers with no employment reported they were not working because they were taking care of their children (82%). Forty-two per cent of these not-employed mothers reported they were not working because their partner had sufficient earnings.

The financial return from work emerged as an issue for choosing not to work. One of the reasons that 33% of mothers with no employment were not working was the high cost of child care. Other important reasons were having another baby (30%) and a lack of flexible working arrangements (15%).

Plans about paid work and further study/training

In Wave 2.5, mothers in the B cohort who were not working were asked questions about their current and future plans for paid work, and all mothers were asked about further study/training.

When asked about plans for paid work, a minority of the mothers not in paid work reported that they wanted to work now (5%). Twenty-six per cent of mothers not already working wanted to work when their youngest child reached preschool, another 41% preferred to work when their youngest child reached primary school age, and 20% had no definite plans about being in paid work. These responses indicated that the reason the vast majority of mothers preferred not to work now may be attributed in part to concerns about caring responsibilities and balancing work and family.

With respect to current activities outside the home, 10% of all mothers in the B cohort were undertaking study or training leading to a trade certificate, diploma, degree or other educational qualification, 3% were undertaking study or training not leading to a trade certificate and 16% were undertaking voluntary or community work.

Regarding plans about further study or training, 9% of all mothers in the B cohort indicated they would undertake further study in the next year, and another 17% within the next two or three years. The remaining three-quarters (74%) had no definite plans for furthering their education.


3 Although the respondent to the Wave 2.5 questionnaire could have been either parent, because the respondents were predominantly mothers (96% B cohort and 94% K cohort), these findings use the term "mother" throughout.

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