The latest child care related news, views and reviews June 12, 2013
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To work or stay at home?
Is the disproportionate share of full time female workers in Australia due to lack of choice?

choiceAnd it's a real tough one in Australia at the moment, with a noticeable disparity between the full time participation of females in the Australian workforce versus that in many other developed countries.

The Washington Post recently reported that America's working mothers are now the primary breadwinners in a record 40 per cent of households with children - a milestone in the changing face of modern families, up from just 11 per cent in 1960.

The findings by the Pew Research Center, released on May 22nd, highlighted the growing influence of "breadwinner moms" who keep their families afloat financially. While most are single mothers, a growing number are families with married mothers who bring in more income than their husbands.

This is opposite in Australia and according to recent research and an article in the SMH, Australia is different in that fewer mothers are working full-time, but represent around three quarters of part-time workers. About 85 per cent of all fathers with a youngest child under the age of five work full-time - but for mothers in that category, the rate is about 19 per cent. In our recent survey 40 per cent of our respondents were working full time and the same number were working part time.

The disproportionate female share of part-time employment has kept the good old Aussie Breadwinner in his traditional position and even though women have greatly increased their involvement in paid work over several decades (and are now pretty much on par with men in terms of their numbers in the workforce – full and part-time), mothers still tend to be secondary earners.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the female participation rate, which has been steadily growing since the 1960s, is now slowing down. The proportion of women aged 15-64 in the workforce is now lower than it was four years ago.

The high cost of child care and lack of child care places is being largely blamed for this situation.

In the SMH article, Patricia Apps, Professor in public economics at the University of Sydney, argues that if childcare worked more like the school system, women's workforce participation would surge, savings would improve, the tax base would grow and the fertility rate would rise.

High "effective marginal tax rates" on women returning to work after having children - a feature of Australia's tax and welfare system - has also been blamed for entrenching women as secondary earners.

All mothers would probably like to spend more time at home with their kids, including those who are committed to their careers and love their jobs, but with the cost of living and property in Australia increasing far more than people's salaries, spending time at home with your babies is not always an option. In our recent survey only 21 per cent of stay at home mums were at home by choice. The rest were at home due to lack of work, lack of employer flexibility or inability to find suitable child care.

Part-time work could be on the increase as a viable option and many women are in fact choosing this path, as opposed to being forced down it. The rise in child care costs, lack of child care places in urban areas, rise in cost of living and means testing for child care benefit has meant that with the advent of high speed broadband we have also seen the rise of the "mumpreneur", running a business from home, as well as the increase in flexible working opportunities and the option to work from home either completely or on a part time basis.

And as far as working from home is concerned or at least working part time in an office, frankly you can get twice the work done when you're an efficient working mum with child care deadlines than you ever did when you had the whole day to faff around taking breaks and staying at work until late, so in effect you can get a normal 5-day a week job done in 3 days anyway. Of course you only get paid for 3 days but you get to spend the other 2 with your kids.

However the disparity does still need to be addressed. Families are struggling with the high cost of childcare, lack of places for the under twos and the increase in the cost of living way outstripping the increase in salaries.

Women are still fighting to get equal position and equal pay in major companies. Many women love their jobs and want to get to the top, with or without kids. And they should be able to. The share of board members is still largely male and pay is still skewed in favour of male workers. Not all female workers have kids, by the way so there's absolutely no argument for why their salaries shouldn't be the same as their male counterparts and not all working mothers have partners to support them.

The increase in single parenting, divorce rates and cost of living mean that many women simply do not have the choice.

So how can we help mothers to be able to stay at home or work, based on choice rather than necessity?

  1. More child care places available, to make working possible.
  2. Tax deductible child care to make working more viable.
  3. Real flexible work options.
  4. Broadening of eligibility for in home care for those who work out of normal hours.
  5. More assistance for single parents.
  6. Qualification of nannies for child care rebate/benefit.

We'd love to hear what you think on this subject

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