A snapshot of how Australian Families spend their time

National Families Week 13-19 May 2007

In celebration of National Families Week 2007, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has produced this Facts Sheet about how families spend their time.

Download 'How familiies spend their time' Facts Sheet (PDF, 357K)


Social, economic and technological change has altered the way in which families spend time together. Important changes include increases in maternal employment, part-time employment and the number of people living alone. There have also been higher levels of geographic mobility, lower fertility rates and the development of affordable communication technology such as the mobile phone, email and the internet.

To support the 2007 National Families Week, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has prepared this Facts Sheet about the time that families spend together. The aim of the 2007 National Families Week is to encourage families to take the time to do things together that will improve their physical and emotional wellbeing.

The statistics presented in this Facts Sheet are derived from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, the Growing Up in Australia: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1997 Time Use Survey.

Family time and life cycle stage

Figure 1: Time-use, life cycle stage, 2004

How time is spent varies greatly according to the stage of the lifecycle. Figure 1 shows the amount of time spent over a week in paid employment, doing household work, parenting and playing with children, for men and women in a number of different types of families. Categories reported in these analyses were those who are childless and aged less than 50 years, those with resident children aged less than 5 years, those with resident children aged 5-14 years and those who have children aged over 15 years. On average:

Unpaid work for non-resident family

Figure 2: Unpaid work for non-resident family over an average two days by gender and age for Australia, 1997 (%)

Women are more likely than men to do unpaid work for non-resident family, that is, family who live elsewhere (Figure 2). Unpaid family work includes activities such as food and drink preparation and clean-up; laundry, ironing and clothes care; gardening; home maintenance; household management; child care; and adult personal care.This unpaid work is in addition to the unpaid family work done for resident family members, and includes helping elderly parents and grandchildren.

Feeling rushed or pressed for time

Always or often feeling rushed and pressed for time (time pressure) can be a source of stress for families. This section uses data from the 2004 HILDA survey on the extent to which people living in different types of families experience time pressure.

Children's time use

Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) provides a window into how young children spend their time. The statistics on children's time use were collected from Wave 1 of LSAC and were gathered in 2004, and are for time while the child is awake.

Pre-school aged children's time with their parents

The amount of time that children spend with their mother decreases over the first few years of life.

Infants spend, on average:

4 to 5 year olds spend, on average:

Part of the reduction in time that mothers spend with their child is a result of increases in maternal employment and the almost universal participation of 4-5 years olds in some form of early education (child care, pre-school or school).

For 4-5 year olds:

In contrast, the employment rates of fathers with an infant and those with a 4-5 year old are both over 90%.

The impact of parental employment on time with pre-school children

Figure 3: Time pre-school children spend with their mother on workdays by age of child and mothers' working hours
Figure 4: Time pre-school children spend with their father on workdays by age of child and fathers' working hours

Figure 3 shows the amount of time pre-school aged children spend with their mother according to the mother's hours of work. Figure 4 shows the relationship for men between working hours and time spent with young children.

On weekdays:

The time that parents spend with their young children on weekends does not vary much according to the number of hours worked by the parent.

Children and family time

Four to five year old children share in a large range of activities with other family members.

Over a one week period:

While children spend less time with their mother when their mother spends longer in paid employment, this does not necessarily mean that children of employed mothers have fewer opportunities to share activities with family members. Four to five year olds with an employed mother were as likely to be read to on 6 or 7 days a week by a family member as were children with not-employed mothers. The proportions read to every day are:

Time together is not just about doing things and going places. The quality of relationships and interactions is crucial to the health and development of children. Mothers are more likely than fathers to report often experiencing warm relationships with their pre-school aged child. The following shows the percentage saying they always or almost always:

Contact with extended family

Families with young children often have contact with their extended family. Parents had frequent contact with other family members, whether by seeing them directly, phoning or emailing them. Amongst mothers of 4-5 year olds:

Amongst the 4-5 year old children:


The time that families spend together is crucial. While people often express a concern that modern life is resulting in families spending less time together than in the past, this snapshot suggests that the picture is much more complex. Although many parents of young children experience time pressure, families are spending a lot of time together and most have substantial contact with extended family networks. Most children do a wide range of activities with their family, including reading books, playing outside and participating in musical activities. The challenge for society is to ensure that families continue to be able to spend time together, especially as the patterns of labour force participation of men and women continue to change.


ABS (1998), How Australians Use their Time, 1997, Catalogue No. 4153.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.

de Vaus, D., Gray, M. and Stanton, D. (2003), "Measuring the value of unpaid household, caring and voluntary work of older Australians", Research Paper 34, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne.


The HILDA survey is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. It is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Council for Educational Research.

LSAC was initiated and funded as part of the Australian Government's Stronger Families and Communities Strategy by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The study is being undertaken in partnership with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, with advice being provided by a consortium of leading researchers at research institutions and universities throughout Australia.

This Facts Sheet was compiled by Dr Jennifer Baxter, Dr Matthew Gray and Professor Alan Hayes.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2007

< Facts Sheets menu