Lone and couple mothers in the Australian labour market

Lone and couple mothers in the Australian labour market

Exploring differences in employment transitions

Jennifer Baxter and Jennifer Renda

Research Paper No. 48 — January 2011
Lone and couple mothers in the Australian labour market

While more mothers have been participating in the paid workforce over recent years, the employment rate of lone mothers remains lower than that of couple mothers. Concerns about the wellbeing of adults and children living in jobless households contribute to continuing interest in explaining the relatively low employment rate of lone mothers.

This paper provides new insights into possible reasons for the different rates of employment of lone and couple mothers by examining how their employment transitions vary. A focus on transitions enables us to examine whether the lower employment rate of lone mothers is due to their being less likely to enter employment, more likely to exit employment once employed, or a combination of both.

Monthly calendar data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey are used to identify and compare the rate at which lone and couple mothers move into and out of employment over a seven-year period. These data show that in any one-month period, lone mothers are less likely to be employed than couple mothers. Of those employed in a one-month period, lone mothers are more likely to transition out of employment than couple mothers; however, not-employed lone and couple mothers are no different in their likelihood of transition into employment. The analyses also consider the extent to which a selection of factors other than lone parenthood differentiate mothers in their employment transition rates. These analyses show that educational attainment, work history and age of youngest child may influence, in part, the different employment transition rates of lone and couple mothers.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Jennifer Baxter is a Senior Research Fellow and Jennifer Renda is a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).


This paper uses data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. The HILDA project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

An earlier version of this paper, The Stability of Lone Mothers’ Employment: Using HILDA Calendar Data to Examine Work Transitions, was presented at the HILDA Research Conference in September 2009. We are grateful for comments from conference participants and from reviewers Rosanna Scutella, Jeff Borland and Steve Pudney, as well as from colleagues at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Publication details

Research Paper
No. 48
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, January 2011.
55 pp.
ISSN: 
1446-9871
ISBN: 
978-1-921414-54-1
Suggested citation:

Baxter,  J., & Renda, J. (2011). Lone and couple mothers in the Australian labour market: Exploring differences in employment transitions (Research Paper No. 48). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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