Struggling to balance work and family? You’re not alone
The Sector > Research > Struggling to balance work and family? You’re not alone

Struggling to balance work and family? You’re not alone

by Freya Lucas

October 30, 2019

Only 15 per cent of Australians, regardless of gender, feel they are able to balance their work and family responsibilities, with Professor Marian Barid saying that since the 2010 introduction of paid parental leave, and dad and partner leave in 2013, “we’ve seen alarmingly little progress in the work-and-care policy space”.


Although younger fathers consider paid parental leave and childcare to be as important to their future success at work as mothers do, and understand their role in shared household work, new research has found that young men without children are the least likely to consider supportive work and care policies and shared domestic work at home as important to their future. 


This is despite the fact, researchers said, that they are just as likely as men with children to plan to have a child in the future.


The findings contrast with the attitudes of young women without children, who are more likely than their male peers without children to report that equality in domestic life is very important to their future success at work.


This, Associate Professor Elizabeth Hill said, is because “young women are making sophisticated and calculated choices about how they manage work and care early on in their careers.”


“This often includes shifting to lower paid jobs with less responsibility. Sometimes the choice is not to have children. Public policy should not impinge on people’s capacity to manage a successful work and family life,” she added. 


The study, which was led by Associate Professor Hill, reveals the growing momentum among young parents for better work and care policies, regardless of their gender.


“Both men and women who are young parents understand the importance of sharing the responsibility for childcare and housework for success at work,” she said.  


The team of researchers from the University of Sydney’s Australian Women’s Working Futures project surveyed more than 2,500 working women and men aged 16 to 40, who were representative of the workforce nationally.


Only 15 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that they can balance work and family responsibilities, which Associate Professor Hill said shows a clear gap between what young workers expect and the current level of support at home and in the workplace.


While increased participation of women in the labour market is an objective of governments around the world, the proportion of women working full-time, as opposed to part-time, has remained consistent since the 1970s, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data.


Professor Marian Baird, co-author on the paper, said: “Despite huge labour market changes, the rate of women working full-time hasn’t changed over the past 40 years in Australia.


“Over the same time, we’ve seen mothers working part-time to accommodate caring responsibility. The fact that women make up almost 70 per cent of all part-time employees shows how gendered caring is.”


Women with children told the researchers how the unequal burden of childcare limits their earning capacity as part-time workers, with one working mother saying: “It’s very much a man’s world…as the ‘mum’ you’re generally the one who has the sick days, who has to pick up from day care and so I can’t take the overtime.”


The research, published in the Journal of Sociology, noted the gap between expectations of young men with and without children, which researchers say points to the need for more research on how men manage the transition to fatherhood and the impact on households and workplaces.


Published statistical analysis reveals that the presence of children, rather than gender, has the biggest influence on whether workers consider balancing work and care as being very important.


The likelihood that men with children report that access to work-care policy (such as paid parental leave and childcare) is ‘very important’ for future success at work is 71 per cent compared with 79 per cent for women with children, but only 50 per cent for men without children.


The study was funded by the University of Sydney’s Sydney Research Excellence Initiative 2020. It was authored by Associate Professor Elizabeth Hill, Professor Marian Baird, Professor Ariadne Vromen, Professor Rae Cooper, Zoe Meers and Professor Elspeth Probyn, and may be accessed here. 

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