Australian mothers' participation in employment

Analyses of social, demographic and family characteristics using the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey
Research Paper No. 52 – November 2013

1. Introduction

In 2009-10, almost two-thirds (62%) of Australian mothers of children aged under 15 years were employed.1 While this percentage is higher than it has been in previous decades, it remains below that of many other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (Baxter & Renda, 2011; OECD, 2007, 2012).

This relatively low percentage indicates that there may be potential for increases in maternal employment in Australia. As part of the productivity agenda in Australia, there is considerable interest in understanding whether certain barriers deter some mothers from entering, or remaining in, employment. As such, this research was designed to provide some insights on the different factors that might contribute to some mothers being less engaged in the labour market than others. The analyses are based on the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, a panel survey of Australian adults. The main source of data for this research is Wave 11 of HILDA, which was collected in 2011.

The main focus of the report is the analysis of how characteristics of mothers vary according to different measures of employment participation, relationship status and age of youngest child. Characteristics examined include mothers' birth and work history, labour force characteristics, socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., education, number and age of children, and health status), self-perceptions (of personal autonomy), social supports and values. This descriptive approach provides some perspective on the barriers that may be faced by non-employed mothers in particular.

The report is structured as follows. Following a discussion of some key recent Australian literature on maternal employment in section 2, the HILDA data are then described in section 3. The results are then presented in section 4, with the first analyses beginning with a discussion of trends in employment participation for lone and couple mothers. How the characteristics of lone and couple mothers vary with different levels of recent employment experience is then considered. Then the focus is on non-employed mothers, to analyse how their characteristics vary by relationship status and age of youngest child. A final set of analyses then compares characteristics of non-employed mothers who did and did not transition into employment in the subsequent wave of the survey. Section 5 provides a summary of the results and conclusions drawn from them.


1 Derived from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS; 2011), Table 8.1: Families with children, employment status of parents by family type by age of youngest child.