Single mums still work - with or without child support payments

Single mums still work - with or without child support payments

Media release — 13 October 2010

Australian single mothers choose to get a job outside the home, regardless of whether or not they receive child support payments from their ex-partner, a study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found.

A study of about 1,000 single mothers with children under the age of seven has found that receiving child support doesn't make women any less likely to hold down a job, or to reduce the number of hours they spend at work.

Australian Institute of Family Studies Deputy Director and study author, Dr Matthew Gray said the study is the first in Australia to investigate whether single mothers receiving money from non- labour-market sources, reduce their time in paid employment.

"What we have found is that a mother is just as likely to be employed whether or not she receives child support. There is also no clear relationship between the amount of child support received and the number of hours a single mother works," Dr Gray said.

The study - which drew on data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children - found that single mothers were reluctant to rely on child support payments because of uncertainty that they would receive the full amount they were entitled to, whether it would arrive on time or whether the amount would be cut if their former partner's circumstances changed.

Dr Gray said the study dispelled misconceptions in some quarters that single mothers would prefer to stay at home if they could have the same lifestyle by receiving income they had not earned at work.

"The notion that if women receive child support they'll stay at home living off their ex-partner financially is not the reality. Whether women receive child support payments or not doesn't influence their decision to take a job outside the home," Dr Gray said.

Dr Gray said the findings were significant because being in paid employment can significantly increase both the short and long-term economic wellbeing of separated mothers and their children.

However the study found some evidence that women receiving larger amounts of child support reduced the hours worked by between 5 and 6 hours per week. Between one-in-three and one-in-four single mothers received child support of this magnitude when the second wave of study data was collected in 2006.

"While child support payments won't have an impact on whether most single mothers work or not, mothers receiving larger amounts might cut back the number of hours worked by a modest amount but they'll still opt to work," Dr Gray said.

The study was conduced in two stages in 2004 and 2006 prior to the most recent reforms to the Child Support Scheme, implemented in July 2008, arising from the Ministerial Taskforce On Child Support that aims to increase the compliance of non-resident parents with their child support obligations.

"As our research was carried out prior to the implementation of these reforms, a degree of caution must be exercised when generalising the findings to the operation of the new system. However, on balance we believe that our findings will still broadly apply," Dr Gray said.

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