Parents' welfare receipt and their children's employment and education outcomes

Snapshot Series – Issue 10

Content type
Commissioned report

August 2023


Clement Wong, Brendan Quinn, Bosco Rowland, Lisa Mundy

What do we know?

Intergenerational social mobility measures how likely it is for a person's socio-economic circumstances (education, occupation and income) to differ from that of their parents. Australia has historically achieved high social mobility where children from poor backgrounds have markedly improved their socio-economic position. In international benchmarking studies, Australia's social mobility has typically far outranked the United States, and aligns more closely with the rankings of Canada and Sweden (Cobb-Clark, Dahmann, Salamanca, & Zhu, 2022; Deutscher & Mazumder, 2020; Leigh, 2007).1

Australia's tax and welfare systems help to promote mobility. Welfare payments such as Parenting Payments and JobSeeker (previously called Newstart Allowance) are available for Australians unable to earn sufficient income to meet their individual and/or family's needs. However, persistent poverty remains an issue. Many people are on welfare for long periods of time, and the extended receipt of welfare is typically an indicator of entrenched underlying disadvantage.

While welfare payments assist many families, recipients may still face adverse circumstances that affect them and their children. Related research shows an association between children born in the late 1980s/early 1990s who received welfare payments as young adults and their parents receiving welfare while they were growing up (Cobb-Clark et al., 2022). Australian children raised in families with welfare receipt can face challenges in education and/or work outcomes that maintain disadvantage. They often experience lower rates of school attendance, performance and completion, lower rates of employment, more social exclusion, and poorer physical and mental health outcomes (Perales et al., 2014).

Those not in education, employment and/or training (NEET) during adolescence are at risk of poorer outcomes later in life, including lower levels of employment, increased social exclusion, and reduced health and wellbeing (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2021; Mitrou, Haynes, Perales, Zubrick, & Baxter, 2021). In New Zealand, long-term NEETs aged 18-19 were 20% less likely to be employed two years later and 10% less likely to have a bachelor's degree four years later (Samoilenko & Carter, 2015). In Ireland, NEET status was associated with a twofold increased risk of anxiety disorders and a sevenfold increased risk of suicidal ideation (Power et al., 2015).

What can we learn?

There has been limited research on the process behind Australia's social mobility - the extent of disadvantage that carries over from parents to children. Evidence is needed to understand how Australian policies, such as the provision of welfare payments, are performing to address intergenerational disadvantage.

Addressing these research gaps, this snapshot uses data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to answer two research questions: (1) What was the prevalence of welfare receipt among the primary parents of LSAC adolescents as they were growing up? (2) Are adolescents (aged 18-19 years) at higher risk of not being in education, employment or training (NEET) if their primary parent had received welfare payments? If so, does this vary by receipt duration?

Key Findings

  1. Around 3 in 10 primary parents received Parenting Payments or Newstart Allowance (JobSeeker) at some point between July 2002 and June 2017. Around 50% of recipients had extended receipt of welfare totalling over 3.5 years across this period. 
  2. Parents' extended receipt of welfare was associated with adolescents having 80% higher odds (a greater likelihood) of not being in employment or in education/training (NEET) at age 18-19.

Authors: Dr Clement Wong, Dr Brendan Quinn, Br Bosco Rowland and Dr Lisa Mundy 
Series editors: Dr Tracy Evans-Whipp, Dr Bosco Rowland and Dr Lisa Mundy 
Copy editor: Katharine Day 
Graphic design: Lisa Carroll

This snapshot benefited from academic contributions from Jennifer Prattley, Tracy Evans-Whipp and Chris Schilling.

This snapshot was updated on 30 October 2023 to include a fourth author.

This research would not have been possible without the invaluable contributions of the Growing Up in Australia children and their families.

Email: [email protected]

The study is a partnership between the Department of Social Services and the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and is advised by a consortium of leading Australian academics. The Australian Bureau of Statistics were also partners of the study until 2022, with Roy Morgan joining at this point. Findings and views expressed in this publication are those of the individual authors and may not reflect those of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Department of Social Services, the Australian Bureau of Statistics or Roy Morgan.

Featured image: © GettyImages/Mixmike


Wong, C., Quinn, B., Rowland, B., & Mundy, L. (2023). Parents’ welfare receipt and their children’s employment and education outcomes (Growing Up in Australia Snapshot Series – Issue 10). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.