Family Matters No. 74 2006 is published.

Family Matters No. 74 2006 is published.

Media release — 23 October 2006

Family Matters No. 74 2006 is published. With a focus on children in context, this edition includes articles on the health and wellbeing of mothers of different ages and their infants, ideas for child and family services, parents of adult children with an intellectual disability, parents' perceptions of their neighbourhoods, and the paid work characteristics of mothers with infants.

Paid work characteristics of mothers with infants

Jenny Baxter and Matthew Gray (AIFS) pp 34-41

Between 1981 and 2001, the employment rate of mothers with a child under one year increased from 20% to 35%. Despite the extent of these changes, surprisingly little is known about the types of jobs in which mothers with infants are employed.

The analysis in this paper is primarily based on data from the first wave of Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) collected in 2004 and is restricted to the infant cohort, which consists of 5,107 children. The infants were aged 3-19 months (average age of almost 9 months), although the infants with mothers in paid work were slightly older than the average (9.4 months).

According to LSAC, the employment rate of mothers with an infant is 38% (2,014 mothers employed). A further 10% of mothers are on maternity leave.

The most common occupation category in which mothers with an infant are employed is Professional (29.8%) followed by Intermediate Clerical, Sales and Service Workers (21.9%), Advanced Clerical and Service Workers (11.2%), Associate Professionals (10.8%) and Elementary Clerical, Sales and Service Workers (10.3%).

A higher proportion of mothers with an infant are Professionals (29.8%) than for all women (21.4%). A lower proportion of mothers with an infant are employed as Intermediate Clerical, Sales and Service Worker (21.9%) than are all employed women (26.9%).

The average usual hours in paid work for mothers with an infant is 20.4 per week. This is much lower than the average for all employed women (31.2 hours) (ABS 2006). The most common number of hours worked by mothers with an infant is 1-15 per week (43.0%). Just 36.5% work 16-34 hours per week and 20.5% work full time (35 hours or more per week). In comparison, the proportion of all employed women working full-time is 55.1%.

An important characteristic of jobs is the type of employment contract. For employees, the flexibility associated with casual employment might assist women to balance work and family responsibilities, while for permanent employees, more predictable employment and access to better employment conditions may make the work-family balance easier to manage. There is some evidence that mothers with dependent children sometimes use self-employment to provide the flexibility they need to successfully combine paid work with caring responsibilities.

The LSAC survey asks employed parents whether they are able to vary their start and finish times. Overall, 56.3% of employed mothers with an infant indicated that they could vary their start and finish times without needing to get approval, 27.0% could vary their start and finish times with approval and 16.7 couldn't vary their hours (including the those who responded 'not likely' and 'definitely not').

The birth of a child, particularly the first child, is one of the major transitions experienced by families and it is at this point that there are often very significant changes in employment patterns within families. Understanding the types of jobs in which mothers with an infant are employed is important information for policy makers, particularly given the developmental importance of the early years of a person's life.

Starting early, starting late: The health and wellbeing of mother and child

Lixia Qu, Grace Soriano and Ruth Weston (AIFS) pp 4-11

This article uses data from the Growing up in Australia Study (LSAC) to examine age related differences in mothers' health-related behaviours, personal health and wellbeing, relationships with their partner, and the birth circumstances and general health of their infant.

The information about children's health was derived through personal interviews with the 2,114 mothers, while the reports on the other issues examined below were provided through selfcomplete questionnaires. 85% of new mothers completed the questionnaire.

The survey sought information about level of exercise, cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption at the time of the survey. (These health-related behaviours did not necessarily reflect patterns of behaviours during the pregnancy.)

Diet and Exercise

With the exception of physical exercise, patterns of behaviour reported by the mothers varied significantly according to age, with the two youngest groups being the most likely to report risk-prone behaviours.

51-56% in all groups indicated that they engaged in at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise on three or more days per week. Between 9 and 15% of mothers indicated that they did not engage in such activities.

Only 30-52% of mothers in each age group indicated that they usually had at least two serves of fruit each day, while less than 10% reported that that they usually consumed at least five serves of vegetables (2-9%).

Tobacco and alcohol

The Growing up in Australia mothers were compared with women who participated in the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2004.

The incidence of risky alcohol consumption varied significantly with the age of the new mothers. While the two youngest groups were less likely than other mothers to report drinking alcohol at least once a week (21-24% vs 42-50%), the younger mothers, seemed more likely than the three older groups to engage in "binge drinking" - that is, consuming alcohol to a level that poses an immediate risk to health.

Compared with women who participated in the (NDSHS):

  • Rates of daily cigarette smoking were four times higher for the LSAC teenage mothers than for teenage girls who participated in the NDSHS (47% vs 12%). Risky drinking in the past 12 months was also more prevalent amongst the LSAC teenage mothers than amongst teenage girls in general (59% vs 42%). Entering motherhood at an early age may be selective of those who take such risks, and in many cases the infants will be exposed to passive smoking.
  • Rates of daily smoking were similar for the LSAC mothers and all women aged 20-29 years (26% and 23%), but LSAC mothers in their twenties were less likely than all women of this age to have engaged in risky binge drinking in the previous 12 months (38% vs 57%).
  • A lower proportion of LSAC mothers of this age aged 30-39 years reported engaging in daily smoking and risky binge drinking, especially the latter ,than women in the general population (daily smoking: 14% vs 22%; risky binge drinking: 27% vs 39%).
Relationship quality

The mothers in the study tended to report favourable relationships with their partner. All groups were inclined to see their partner as a supportive parent (mean ratings were above 4.0 on a five-point scale) and to view the quality of their relationship with their partner positively (mean ratings were above 4.0 on a five-point scale). In addition, no more than 12% indicated that they were unhappy in their relationship.

Mothers aged 25-34 and 35-37 years were the most likely to indicate that they were "extremely" or "perfectly" happy in their relationship (63-64% vs 50-56%) and these two groups achieved the highest average scores on the relationship quality measure. On the other hand, the teenage mothers indicated the lowest relationship quality, and along with those in their early twenties, were the most likely to report that they were unhappy in their relationship (10-12% vs 4-9%).

Baby's health

Consistent with the AIHW findings, the proportion of babies born by caesarean section increased with increasing age of the mother. However, mothers' reports about birth weight did not vary according to their age, and most believed that their baby was very healthy.

Mothers aged 35-37 years were most likely to describe their child's health as "excellent" (73%), followed by mothers aged 20-24 and 25-34 years (64-66%). The youngest and oldest mothers (especially the youngest group) were the least likely to consider their child's health to be "excellent" (51% and 60% respectively) and the most likely to describe it as "good" or "fair" (19% and 12% respectively, vs 8-9%).

Is there a "right" age to have children?

The article demonstrates the link between the timing of childbearing and the well-being of both mother and child. With one exception, the mothers who had their children at the "normative" age (25-34 years) and slightly older mothers (35-37 years) seemed the best off on those measures for which differences emerged, including the quality of their relationship with their partners.

The exception concerned the elevated sense of time pressure of mothers aged 35-37 years. This could be explained by the fact that these mothers were the most likely to have returned to paid work even though their children were, on average, no older than those of the other mothers. In other words, time pressures were linked with mothers' return to work rather than mothers' age at childbearing; the results highlight the difficulties of juggling work and family responsibilities.

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