A third of Australian mothers not working

A third of Australian mothers not working

Media release — 20 November 2013

More than one third of Australian mothers with children under 15 are not in paid employment because they are caring for children, have health problems or face other barriers to employment, according to a research report released today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Australia's maternal employment rate of 62 per cent is lower than many OECD countries and the research examined possible barriers to mothers taking up paid work.

The AIFS' report Australian Mothers' Participation In Employment drew on responses from 2,000 mothers in families around the country who had children under 15 years old, as part of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) study.

AIFS Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jennifer Baxter said the majority of mothers who were not employed reported that they were not in the workforce because they were caring for children. "There are a lot of mothers saying that they are not working because they prefer to look after their children at home," Dr Baxter said.

"Regardless of whether they were lone or couple mothers, with very young children under five or even older school-aged children from six to 14, Australian mothers see caring for their children as a key priority.

"In addition, mothers who were not employed often had their own health problems or caring responsibilities that extended beyond the care of children and bigger hurdles when it came to re-entering the workforce. These issues were particularly marked for lone mothers," Dr Baxter said.

Key report findings include:

  • The employment rate of mothers with children aged under 15 was 62 per cent in 2011.
  • For lone mothers, the employment rate was 56 per cent and for couple mothers the employment rate was 64 per cent.
  • The gap between lone and couple mothers' employment rates was greatest before children reach school age. The employment gap was greatest for mothers of children aged under three years (26 per cent employed for lone mothers and 46 per cent employed for couple mothers) or aged three to five years (44 per cent employed for lone mothers and 63 per cent employed for couple mothers).
  • For mothers whose youngest child was aged six to nine, 67 per cent of lone mothers were employed and 74 per cent of couple mothers were employed.
  • For mothers whose youngest child was aged 10 to 14 years, 74 per cent of lone mothers were employed and 83 per cent of couple mothers were employed.

Dr Baxter said that mothers who spent less of the previous year in employment had on average poorer mental health, more long-term health conditions, were more likely to live in rental accommodation and to face more difficulties accessing social supports.

"Mothers who had not been employed for most or all of the previous year were more likely to say that they had no one to lean on in times of trouble and to say they often needed help from other people but were unable to get it," Dr Baxter said.

"Women who spent more time out of employment in the previous financial year also held more traditional attitudes about work and family values and tended to have a preference for mothers to remain out of the workforce.

"The study showed that caring for children is the predominant factor in explaining mothers' reasons for not being employed. But among mothers who have older children, an increasing proportion of those who are not employed have barriers to employment including those related to their own health, caring responsibilities and relatively low levels of education.

"Providing opportunities and supports for mothers to enter employment as their children grow older needs to take account of the diverse characteristics of mothers, and allow for those who may face particular challenges to overcome, including those with poorer mental health or social supports, or more traditional views about mothers' role in the home."

Media contacts