Employment aspirations of non-working mothers with long-term health problems

 

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Content type
Research report
Published

July 2007

Researchers

Overview

In recent years there has been considerable government concern about the growing number of Australian mothers who spend long periods of time in receipt of income support payments. Long-term receipt of income support payments often equates to extended absences from the labour force, making re-entry into paid work increasingly difficult. Instead of leaving the welfare system for paid work once children are older, increasing numbers of recipients have been transferring from Parenting Payment (PP) to other income support payments, such as the Disability Support Pension (DSP). In response, policy initiatives have been introduced, with the aim of increasing the workforce participation of PP recipients. Such policies tend to focus on increasing financial incentives, improving job-related skills and enhancing levels of motivation to work. Considering the magnitude of the barriers that those with long-term health problems often face, these factors may have little influence on their employment decisions. Women with long-term health problems may not need incentives or motivation to work, but rather supports and opportunities tailored to their individual needs. In order to explore this further, this paper compares the employment aspirations and expectations of mothers with and without long-term health problems.

Executive summary

Executive summary

There has been increasing concern in recent years about the growing number of Australian mothers who spend long periods of time in receipt of income support payments. Lengthy spells of income support receipt often equate to long absences from the labour force, making re-entry into paid work increasingly difficult. Instead of leaving the income support system for long-term employment, particularly once children are older, an increasing number of Australian mothers have been transferring from Parenting Payment (PP) to other income support payments, such as the New Start Allowance (NSA) or Disability Support Pension (DSP). Transfer to DSP is of particular concern to policy makers as dependence on the payment is often long-term, especially for those transferring from other income support payments.

In an attempt to break the cycle of welfare dependence for mothers in receipt of PP, and to reduce the number of transfers to other payments, the Australian Government has introduced several initiatives designed to increase the workforce participation of PP recipients. Such policy initiatives focus mostly on increasing financial incentives, improving job-related skills and enhancing levels of motivation to work. However, mothers with long-term health problems are likely to respond differently from other mothers to such policies, as they will often face a much broader range of barriers to paid employment and may also have greater opportunities to transfer to DSP payments. For example, increasing incentives and motivation to work will have little impact on employment rates if mothers already have a desire to work, but due to health-related barriers have difficulty entering the paid workforce.

In order to further explore this hypothesis, this paper examines the employment aspirations and expectations of mothers with long-term health problems and attempts to better understand the relationship between the desire to work and actual labour force participation. To what extent do low employment rates among Australian mothers with long-term health problems reflect a lack of desire to work? Is there a desire to work that is difficult to fulfil due to the direct or indirect influence of health-related barriers to employment?

The data used for this analysis is from the Family and Work Decisions (FAWD) survey undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in December 2002. The FAWD survey comprises a sample of 2,405 Australian mothers who received a Family Tax Benefit (FTB) payment (either FTB A or B) as a fortnightly payment through Centrelink, some of whom were also in receipt of other forms of income support.

In this paper, those with a long-term health problem who reported an effect on their ability to work or study are compared with two other groups: those who reported a long-term health problem which affected their lives in some way but had no effect on their ability to work or study, and those who reported having no long-term health problem.

The analysis revealed that non-working mothers with work-affecting long-term health problems were just as likely as other mothers to want to be in paid work. However, when it came to turning the desire to work into reality, mothers with work-affecting health problems seemed to be less confident and less likely to succeed. Even when they expressed a desire to be in paid work, non-working mothers with work-affecting health problems were less likely than other mothers to expect to be working in the future, particularly in the medium term (in 5 years time).

While mothers with work-affecting health problems had similar expectations of the hours they would work and the income they could earn if they were in a paid job, they appeared to be less likely to be able to achieve their expectations. The reservation incomes of mothers with and without work-affecting health problems were very similar, but the predicted earnings of those with work-affecting health problems were generally lower.

Health problems featured readily in the reasons given by mothers with work-affecting health problems for not being in paid work and for the difficulties they perceived they would have in finding a job that met their wage and hours expectations. Often, respondents referred directly to their health problems, but they also sometimes gave other reasons that could be linked indirectly to their poor health. Furthermore, those with health problems, regardless of whether they were work-affecting or not, were more likely than those with no health problems to state that they were not working due to others' health needs.

These findings indicate that, while many mothers with long-term health problems seemed to be motivated to work, they faced greater difficulty in gaining paid employment than other mothers. They also appeared to be aware of this difficulty. Therefore, policies that aim to reduce the limitations that having a health problem has on employment opportunities, and thus increase confidence in being able to enter paid work, may be the most successful at increasing the employment rates of these mothers.

Introduction

Introduction

There has been increasing concern, in recent years, about the growing number of Australian mothers who spend long periods of time in receipt of income support payments. Lengthy spells of income support receipt often equate to long absences from the labour force, making re-entry into paid work increasingly difficult. Instead of leaving the income support system for long periods of employment, particularly once children are older, an increasing number of Australian mothers have been transferring from Parenting Payment (PP) to other income support payments, such as the New Start Allowance (NSA) or Disability Support Pension (DSP) (Gregory, 2002).1 Transfer to DSP is of particular concern to policy makers as dependence on the payment is often long-term, especially for those transferring from other income support payments (Cai, 2004).2

In an attempt to break the cycle of welfare dependence for mothers in receipt of PP, and to reduce the number of transfers to other payments, the Australian Government has introduced several initiatives designed to increase the workforce participation of PP recipients and to improve their job-readiness.3 However, mothers with long-term health problems are likely to respond differently from other mothers to policies that aim to increase workforce participation, as they will often face a much broader range of barriers to paid employment and may also have greater opportunities to transfer to DSP payments.4

In a US study by Wolfe and Hill (1995), models of labour supply were used to examine the effect of health problems on lone mothers' responses to policies (such as wage subsidies) that were designed to encourage the take-up of paid work. The results indicate that mothers with poor health or a disability are less likely than those with good health and no disability to respond to employment incentives.

In a UK study, Casebourne and Britton (2004) found that the majority of lone mothers with a health problem who were in receipt of income support payments indicated a desire to work. However, some mothers felt that their health was too poor for them to be able to work. For others it was the double burden of having poor health and having the responsibilities associated with being a lone parent that made it difficult to take on paid employment.

Australian policies that aim to increase employment rates of mothers, particularly those in receipt of PP, tend to focus on increasing financial incentives, improving job-related skills and enhancing levels of motivation to work. Considering the magnitude of barriers that those with long-term health problems face, these factors may have little influence on their employment decisions. Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) (2003) suggests that women with disabilities do not need incentives or motivation to work, but rather need less discriminatory employer attitudes and better access to support services.

The aim of this paper is to explore the employment aspirations and expectations of mothers with long-term health problems in order to better understand the relationship between the desire to work and actual labour force participation. To what extent do low employment rates among Australian mothers with long-term health problems reflect a lack of desire to work? Is there a desire to work that is difficult to fulfil due to the direct or indirect influence of health-related barriers to employment? In order to explore these questions, reasons for not working, desire to be in paid work and expectations of future labour market participation will be examined.

In the next section, the data used for the analysis in this paper will be described. Then the measures of health included in the survey and the way they will be used in the current analysis are discussed. This is followed by an examination of characteristics considered relevant to employment aspirations, including relationship status, employment status and pension receipt status and how they relate to the presence or absence of a long-term health problem. The remaining analysis focuses on the non-working mothers and begins with an exploration of the reasons that mothers gave for not working. The focus then turns to comparing the employment aspirations and expectations of paid work of those with and without long-term health problems.

1 Of those who began a spell of PP receipt in 1995 and subsequently left the payment, 10% began receiving another income support payment within 5 years (Gregory, 2002). Of the new DSP recipients in 2004, 5.7% had transferred from PP (Cai, 2004).

2 DSP is paid at a higher rate than the Newstart Allowance (the payment mothers would most likely transfer to when they are no longer eligible for PP but are not in paid work). Also, DSP recipients, unlike many other income support payment recipients, were not subject to any participation or job search requirements before July 2006.

3 Relevant initiatives that were in effect prior to July 2006 include: changes to the withdrawal rate of payments (particularly for lone mothers), allowing increased earnings to be obtained from paid work before payments are reduced, and voluntary training and job-readiness programmes (such as the JET programme). New initiatives, introduced since 1 July 2006, include: compulsory job search requirements for PP recipients whose youngest children are aged 6 years or older, and Employment Entry Payments payable to recipients who get a job.

4 Barriers to employment faced by mothers with long-term health problems include: constraints on physical and/or mental capacities (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2000); limitations on opportunities for education and training (ABS, 1998; Crosse, 2004; Russo & Jansen, 1988); a lack of suitable jobs (Graffam & Naccarella, 1994; Walker, 2002); transport issues (WWDA, 2003); negative employer attitudes (ABS, 1998); and financial disincentives (Walker, 2002; Wolfe & Hill, 1995).

Data

Data

The data used for this analysis is from the Family and Work Decisions (FAWD) survey undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in December 2002. The FAWD survey comprises a sample of 2,405 Australian mothers who received a Family Tax Benefit (FTB) payment (either FTB A or B) as a fortnightly payment through Centrelink, some of whom were also in receipt of other forms of income support.5 Therefore all sample members were receiving some sort of government benefit at the time of sample selection, including 45% who were receiving PP or DSP at the time of the survey. All sample members also had at least one dependent child (a child aged under 16 or a full-time student aged under 25).

The sample was representative of the population of FTB recipients, except that lone mothers were deliberately over-sampled. Lone mothers accounted for 29% of the FTB recipient population at the time the survey was conducted, whereas they made up 48.2% of the FAWD sample.6 The option of comparing lone and couple mothers when analysing the impact of having a health problem on non-working mothers' employment aspirations was considered. However, by the time missing cases on individual items were excluded, the samples of lone and couple non-working mothers with long-term health problems were most often too small to produce reliable results. Also, when reliable comparisons could be made for lone and couple mothers, differences tended to be marginal. Therefore, this paper focuses on the FAWD sample as a whole, although comment is made on the differences between lone and couple mothers where interesting results were found.

Weights were applied to the data to take account of the differing probabilities of selection of lone and couple mothers.7

Measures of health

In order to identify those with a long-term health problem, FAWD survey respondents were asked whether or not they had a health problem or disability that had lasted 6 months or more and affected their daily lives.8 Respondents who reported having a long-term health problem were also asked if their condition affected their ability to work or study. Twelve per cent of the weighted FAWD sample reported they had a long-term health problem that affected their ability to work and study. A further 10% reported having a long-term health problem that affected their daily lives but not their ability to work or study.

In this paper, those with a long-term health problem who reported an effect on their ability to work or study are compared with two other groups: those who reported a long-term health problem that affected their lives in some way but had no effect on their ability to work or study, and those who reported having no long-term health problem. For simplicity, those who reported having a long-term health problem that affected their ability to work or study will be referred to as those with a 'work-affecting' health problem, and those who reported having a health problem that did not affect their ability to work or study will be referred to as those with a 'non-work-affecting' health problem.

The health problem measures used in the FAWD study have been used in other surveys in the past (including the Australian Institute of Family Studies' Australian Living Standards Study (ALSS) (1991-1992), the Australian Bureau of Statistics' National Health Survey (1995-2005) and the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey (2001-2006)). Another commonly used measure of health - self-reported general health status - was also included in the FAWD survey.9 This self-reported health status measure was compared with the measure of long-term health problems to check for consistency of responses (see Table 1). The results show that those who reported having a long-term health problem that affected their ability to work or study were much more likely than those who reported having no long-term health problem to claim that their health was poor or fair (47.7% compared to 3.8%). Conversely, those who reported having no health problems were the group most likely to report having excellent or very good health (75.7% compared to 21.4% of those with a work-affecting health problem). Mothers with a non-work-affecting health problem reported health outcomes in between the other two groups, with 17.8% reporting fair or poor health and 46.8% describing their health as excellent or very good. These findings suggest that there are high levels of consistency in the health measures used in the FAWD survey.

Table 1. Mothers' self-reported health status, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Self-reported healthMother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Affects ability to work/study (%)Does not affect ability to work/study (%)
Excellent4.215.435.2
Very good17.231.440.5
Good30.935.420.5
Fair31.314.83.4
Poor16.43.00.4
Number of observations2802391,875

Note: Relationships between reports of long-term health problems and self-reported health measures are significant (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(9.78, 23413.57) = 63.562, p < .001)). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

5 Lone mothers were sampled from those in receipt of FTB B payment. FTB B provides extra assistance to single income families and is income tested only on the secondary (lower) income earner in the family. This means that there is 100% eligibility for FTB B among lone mothers with a dependent child, although there may not be 100% take-up. Couple mothers were sampled from those who were receiving either FTB A or FTB B. FTB A is income-tested on family income. Around 75% of all couple families in Australia receive an FTB A payment as a fortnightly payment from Centrelink (Gray & Renda, 2006).

6 The main motivation behind the design of the FAWD sample was to provide approximately equal samples of lone and couple mothers in order to compare the employment decisions of these two groups.

7 The results change very little if unweighted data are used.

8 This could include: physical problems (such as arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or injuries); sensory problems (such as vision, hearing or speech difficulties); psychological problems (such as depression, anxiety or agoraphobia); respiratory problems (such as asthma or emphysema); or cognitive problems (such as learning problems or head injuries).

9 Respondents were asked, "In general, would you say that your health is excellent, very good, good, fair or poor?" Other surveys that have used this or a similar self-reported health measure include: the AIFS Australian Living Standards Study (1991-1992), the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) (1991-2006), the ABS National Health Survey (1995-2005), the Negotiating the Life Course (NLC) survey (1997-2003) and the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey (2001-2006).

Characteristics related to health problems and employment aspirations

Characteristics related to health problems and employment aspirations

Some characteristics of the FAWD sample that are relevant to analysis of health issues and employment aspirations will now be examined. The relationship status, employment status and income support receipt status of those with and without long-term health problems will be compared.

Relationship status

There has been particular concern about the increasing rates of welfare dependence among lone mothers. Past studies have found that lone mothers have a higher incidence of health problems, particularly mental health problems, than couple mothers (Butterworth, 2003; Cairney & Wade, 2002; Jayakody & Stauffer, 2000; Wilkins, 2003). Consistent with this, lone mothers in the FAWD survey were more likely than couple mothers to report having a long-term health problem, either work-affecting or non-work-affecting (see Table 2).

Table 2. Whether or not mothers report having long-term health problems by their relationship status
 Lone mother (%)Couple mother (%)
Work-affecting health problem15.010.4
Non-work-affecting health problem12.39.0
No health problem72.780.6
Number of observations6951,700

Note: Relationship status differs significantly according to health problem grouping (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(2.0, 4785.43) = 10.164, p < .001)). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

Employment

Past studies have found that those with long-term health problems are much less likely than those without health problems to be employed, and when employed are much more likely to work part-time (Alexander, 2005; ABS, 2000; Bradbury, Norris, & Abello, 2001; Cai & Kalb, 2004; Magee, 2004; Vickers, 2001; Wilkins, 2003). Analysis of the FAWD data reveals similar patterns for mothers in receipt of FTB payments (see Table 3). As would be expected, mothers with a work-affecting health problem were significantly less likely to be employed either full-time or part-time than mothers who did not have a health problem or who had a non-work-affecting health problem. Also, the proportion of the employed who were working part-time was higher for those with a work-affecting health problem than for those who did not have a health problem (74% compared to 68%).

Employment rates for those with a non-work-affecting health problem were similar to the employment rates of those with no health problem. This is not surprising considering that those with a non-work-affecting health problem reported that their health problem has no impact on their ability to work or study. These results may also indicate that those with a long-term health problem may have been less likely to report that their health problem was work-affecting if they were in paid employment, regardless of whether or not their health problem impacted on their working life.

Table 3. Mothers' employment status, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Employment statusMother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Employed35.858.763.2
   Full-time employed9.419.720.4
   Part-time employed26.439.042.8
Not employed64.241.336.8
Number of observations2542261774

Note: Employment states differ significantly according to health problem grouping (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(3.99, 8995.72) = 16.472, p < .001)). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

By definition, mothers with work-affecting health problems would be expected to have lower rates of employment due to the direct effects of their health issues. However, those with work-affecting health problems may share other characteristics that further reduce their likelihood of being in paid work. For example, past studies have found that women with non-employed partners are less likely to be employed than women with employed partners (Baxter, 2005; Gregory, 1999; King, Bradbury, & McHugh, 1995; Renda, 2003).10

Analysis of the FAWD data revealed that mothers who reported having work-affecting health problems were more likely to have non-working partners than mothers with non-work-affecting health problems or with no health problems (21.9% compared to 15.2% and 11.7% respectively). Therefore, the lower employment rates of mothers with work-affecting health problems may be linked to the lower employment rates of their partners. However, analysis of mothers' employment rates in relation to their partners' employment status (see Table 4) revealed that mothers with long-term health problems were much less likely to be employed than mothers in the other two groups, regardless of whether or not their partners were employed.

Table 4. Proportion of partnered mothers employed, by their partners' employment status and whether or not they report having long-term health problems
 Mother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Partner employed36.461.163.1
Partner not employed17.8*23.5**46.2
Total32.355.461.1
Number of observations127112997

Note: Partners' rates of employment differ significantly according to health problem grouping (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(2.00, 4779.47) = 14.162, p < .001)). * n = 28. ** n = 17. 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

Past research has also found that mothers with young children are less likely to be in paid work than those with older children (Gray, Qu, Renda, & de Vaus, 2003; Alexander, 2005). Therefore, if mothers with long-term health problems in the FAWD survey have, on average, younger children, this may contribute to their lower employment rates.

Results in Table 5 reveal that among both employed and non-employed mothers, those with work-affecting health problems tended to have older children than those without a health problem, though the differences were only found to be significant for non-employed mothers. These findings suggest that the age of the youngest child does not contribute to the lower employment rates of mothers with long-term health problems.

Table 5. Mothers' employment status and age of their youngest child, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Age of youngest child (years)Mother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Employed mothers
Less than 511.117.621.4
5 to 1247.441.645.4
13 to 1531.327.421.8
16 or older10.213.411.5
Number of observations911341126
Non-employed mothers
Less than 517.034.642.7
5 to 1246.153.737.5
13 to 1530.88.813.9
16 or older6.13.05.9
Number of observations16092642

Note: The relationship between the ages of the mothers' youngest children and reporting work-affecting health problems is significant for those not employed (design-based Pearson's test statistic: F(5.92, 5276.73) = 8.394, < .001)), but is non-significant for those employed (F(5.96, 5042.01) = 1.565, = .153). These results do not change when only those with work-affecting health problems and no health problems are compared. 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

Income support receipt

As noted above, fewer FAWD respondents with work-affecting health problems were employed compared to those without work-affecting health problems. Also, those reporting a work-affecting health problem would have been more likely to have access to the disability support pension than other respondents. Therefore, it is expected that a larger proportion of those with a work-affecting health problem would be in receipt of an income support payment compared to those without a health problem or with a non-work-affecting health problem.

The data in this table are from Centrelink administrative data drawn at the time of sampling. Of the 1,080 FAWD respondents who were receiving income support payments at the time of sampling, 79.0% were receiving Parenting Payment Single (PPS), 11.3% were receiving Parenting Payment Partnered (PPP) and 3.5% were receiving DSP.

Over half (52.6%) of those who had a work-affecting health problem and 41.3% of those who had a non-work-affecting health problem were in receipt of income support payments at the time of the FAWD survey (Table 6). This compares to less than a third (29.3%) of those who had no long-term health problem.

Table 6. Mothers' income support receipt status, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
 Per cent receiving income support
Mother has health problemMother has no health problem
Work-affectingNon-work-affecting
All mothers52.641.329.3
   Couple mothers34.919.612.8
   Lone mothers82.780.374.1
Number of observations2812391875

Note: Relationships between reports of long-term health problems and income support receipt are significant for all mothers (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(2.0, 4780.3) = 31.915, p < .001)), for couple mothers (F(2.0, 2476) = 21.646, p < .001) and for lone mothers (F(2, 2310) = 3.673, p = .026). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

Lower rates of employment (see Table 3) are likely to have contributed to the higher level of income support receipt among those with a work-affecting health problem. Differential rates of access to DSP may also have contributed to the gap in income support receipt rates between those with and without a work-affecting health problem. However, only couple mothers' rates of income support receipt would be likely to be affected, due to differences in eligibility arrangements for income support payments between lone and couple mothers.

Couple mothers with no health problems would most likely be in receipt of PPP, whereas couple mothers with work-affecting health problems would be likely to be in receipt of either PPP or DSP. The rate of payment, income tests and taper rates are more generous for DSP than for PPP and so the range of incomes over which mothers can continue to receive income support is greater for DSP than for PPP. The consequence of this is likely to be that more couple mothers with work-affecting health problems receive income support payments compared to couple mothers with no health problems. For lone mothers, the income support payments that they are likely to receive are PPS or DSP, depending on whether or not they have a qualifying health problem. These payments have the same eligibility arrangements, therefore increased access to DSP for lone mothers with a work-affecting health problem would not be likely to have contributed to the gap in income support receipt for those with and without a work-affecting health problem.11

The data supports this hypothesis. Couple mothers were found to be primarily responsible for the difference in rates of income support receipt between those with work-affecting health problems and those with no health problems. The proportion of couple mothers with work-affecting health problems who were in receipt of income support payments was almost three times that of couple mothers with no health problems (34.9% compared to 12.8%). In contrast, the gap for lone mothers was much smaller, with 82.7% of those with a work-affecting health problem being in receipt of income support compared to 74.1% of those with no health problem.

Surprisingly, even though those with a non-work-affecting health problem had similar rates of employment to those with no health problem (see Table 3), they had considerably higher rates of income support receipt. Table 7 shows that mothers with non-work-affecting health problems were more likely than those with no health problems to concurrently receive income from both paid employment and income support payments. This may indicate, as one would expect, that a higher proportion of respondents who report a non-work-affecting health problem receive DSP payments compared to those who report no health problem. However, as mentioned above, this is likely to have only affected income support receipt rates of couple mothers. Another possible explanation is that some mothers may consider their health problem to be non-work-affecting (perhaps because they have been able to find and hold a job), but may still be disadvantaged in the labour market. Higher rates of income support receipt may indicate lower rates of pay or fewer hours of work than employees with no health problems. However, the current data indicate very little difference in the hours and rates of pay of those with non-work-affecting health problems and those with no health problems.

Those with non-work-affecting health problems who were not working also had higher rates of income support receipt than those with no health problems who were not working. Their rates of income support receipt were similar to those of mothers with work-affecting health problems.

Table 7. Proportion of mothers receiving income support, by employment status and whether or not they report having long-term health problems
 Per cent receiving income support
Mother has health problemMother has no health problem
Work-affectingNon-work-affecting
Employed50.539.830.5
Not employed70.968.154.2
Number of observations2792351740

Note: The difference between the proportions of those with a non-work-affecting health problem and with no health problem who were combining income support receipt with paid employment approached significance (adjusted Wald test: (F(1, 1391) = 3.59, p = .058)). The difference between the proportions of those with a non-work-affecting health problem and with a work-affecting health problem were not significant (F(1, 1391) = 2.64, p = .104), however proportions of those with a work-affecting health problem and with no health problem differed significantly (F(1, 1391) = 11.50, p < .001). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

10 A suggested explanation for this is that couples may have characteristics in common that reduce their likelihood of being employed (for example, lower educational attainment) (King et al., 1995).

11 PPS and DSP are both paid under pension rates and conditions (at the time of the FAWD survey the maximum payment was $429.40 per fortnight). Other payments, such as PPP and NSA, are paid under allowance rates and conditions (maximum of $338.10 per fortnight).

Reasons for not working

Reasons for not working

Non-working mothers with work-affecting health problems would be expected to mention their poor health as a reason for not working. However, there are likely to be other factors, perhaps issues relating to motherhood or indirect effects of health problems, which also contribute to these mothers' non-working status. To explore this further, the reasons for not working given by non-working mothers in each of the health groups will be compared.

In the FAWD survey, the response categories listed in Table 8 were read out to the respondents and they were allowed to give multiple reasons for why they were not working. Not surprisingly, the most common reason for not working given by those with a work-affecting health problem was their own health. However, even though the responses were prompted, only 55.7% gave this as a reason, about half of whom also gave one or more other reasons. In comparison, only 10.6% of those with a non-work-affecting health problem and 2.1% of those with no health problem mentioned their own health as a reason for not working.

Table 8. Mothers' reasons for not working, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Reasons for not workingMother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Looking after children and home**50.174.374.1
Studying5.110.06.6
Own health**55.710.62.1
Others' health needs**20.618.011.0
Difficulty finding work18.423.417.1
Childcare cost/availability#7.517.111.6
Would not be better off financially4.65.78.1
Other5.06.67.0
Number of observations185104712

Note: Significance of difference in reasons for not working between those in each of the three health problem groups: # p < .1, * p < .05, ** p < .01 (design-based Pearson test statistic used). Percentages add up to more than 100 because respondents could give more than one reason for not working. 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

Those with a long-term health problem, regardless of whether or not it was described as work-affecting, were more likely to say that the health needs of their children or someone else (others' health needs) was a reason for not working than were those who had no health problem. This may be because of the hereditary nature of some conditions or because those with health problems may be more likely than others to partner with someone who also has a health problem. This finding is consistent with previous studies, which have identified high incidences of caring for others with disabilities or illnesses among women who have a disability or illness themselves (Baxter, 2005; King & McHugh, 1995).

Findings from a study by Wolfe and Hill (1995) also suggest that people with disabilities are less affected by policies aimed at increasing financial incentives for participating in the paid workforce. Therefore it would be expected that those with health problems would be less likely than those without health problems to not be working because of financial disincentives. However, there were only very small, non-significant differences in the proportions of respondents in each of the three health problem groups who said that they were not working because they would not be better off financially (8.1% of those with no health problem compared to 4.6% of those with a work-affecting health problem and 5.7% of those with a non-work-affecting health problem).

Three quarters of both those who didn't report having long-term health problems and those with a non-work-affecting health problem gave looking after their children and home as a reason for not working. In comparison, for mothers with a work-affecting health problem, only half (50.1%) gave this as a reason for not working. For mothers who gave looking after their children and home as a reason for not working, absence from the paid workforce may be only temporary while their children are young, and there may be intentions to return to paid work when their children are older. In support of this, mothers with younger children were found to be more likely to mention looking after their children and home as a reason for not working.12 Therefore, the finding in Table 5 that those with work-affecting health problems tend to have older children may account for some of the difference in the proportions of those who gave looking after their children and home as a reason for not working. Another possible explanation is that for mothers with a work-affecting health problem, absence from the paid workforce is less often temporary and primarily for the care of children and instead is longer-term and due to other factors, most likely those relating to their illness or disability. This can be further explored by comparing the future employment aspirations and expectations of mothers with and without work-affecting health problems.

12 86.2% of those with their youngest child aged 0-4 years, 67.7% of those with their youngest child aged 5-11 years and 51.8% of those with their youngest child aged 12 years or older gave looking after their children and home as a reason for not working.

Employment aspirations of non-working mothers

Employment aspirations of non-working mothers

In this section, the employment aspirations and expectations of non-working mothers are explored. Firstly, comparisons are drawn between those with and without long-term health problems in relation to their desire to be in paid work at the time of the survey. Then the activities that mothers expect to be doing in one and five years' time are examined.13

There was little difference in the proportions of those with and without a work-affecting health problem who would have liked to be in paid work at the time of the survey (Table 9). Those with work-affecting health problems were the group most likely to indicate a desire to be in a paid job; however, the difference between the groups was non-significant. The only significant difference between the three groups in the proportions of those who wanted to be in paid work who were actively looking for work was that those with a non-work-affecting health problem were more likely to be looking for work than those with a work-affecting health problem.

Table 9. Non-working mothers' desire to be in paid work, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
 Mother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Would like to be in a paid job59.356.252.3
   Looking for work29.843.136.1
   Not looking for work70.256.963.9
Would not like to be in a paid job38.540.645.6
Don't know2.13.22.1
Number of observations185104712

Note: Desire to be in paid work did not differ significantly according to health problem grouping (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(3.99, 3989.62) = 0.833, p = .504)). For those who wanted to be in paid work, the proportion looking for work did not differ significantly across the three health problem groups (χ2(2) = 3.31, p = .230). However, the difference between those with a work-affecting health problem and with no health problem was significant at the 10% level (F(1, 585) = 2.77, p = .0965). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

So far, we have found that mothers with work-affecting health problems were less likely than other mothers to be in paid work, but those who were not working were no less likely than other mothers to want to work or to be looking for work. This may indicate that the relationship between desire to work and gaining and maintaining employment differs for those with and without work-affecting health problems. To investigate this further, mothers' expectations of being employed in the future were analysed. The main activity mothers expected to be doing one year and five years after the interview are examined.

The results presented in Table 10 show that there was relatively little difference between those with and without work-affecting health problems in their expectations of working, either full-time or part-time, one year after the survey. Mothers who had a work-affecting health problem were the group least likely to expect to be working; however, the difference between the three groups was not significant.

Table 10. Activity non-working mothers expected to be doing in one year's time, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Expected activityMother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Full-time work7.511.410.9
Part-time work18.320.421.6
Study or training13.620.013.7
Both work and study6.77.45.8
Home duties40.233.438.5
Don't know13.87.49.4
Number of observations178104707

Note: Overall, the activities respondents expected to be doing in one year's time did not differ significantly according to health problem grouping (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(9.9) = 9769.15, p = .479)). The total proportion expecting to be employed (either full-time or part-time) also did not differ significantly (F(1,987) = 2.07, p < .151). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

Analysis of the data separately for lone and couple mothers revealed that expectations of working in one year's time differed significantly across the three health groups for lone mothers, but not for couple mothers. Lone mothers with a work-affecting health problem were much less likely to expect to be working in one year's time than lone mothers with a non-work-affecting health problem or with no health problem (35.2% compared to 56.7% and 55.2%). This may indicate that, in accordance with Casebourne's and Britton's (2004) findings, the double burden of having a health problem and being a sole parent made the thought of being able to take up paid work seem unrealistic in the short term.

To gauge the more long-term employment expectations of mothers, consider the results in Table 11. Differences in the main activities expected in five years' time between those with and without work-affecting health problems were significant. Differences were particularly marked for expectations regarding employment. Those with a work-affecting health problem were less likely than those in either of the other two groups to expect to be working, either full-time or part-time, in five years' time. This is perhaps not surprising when we take into account the fact that those classified as having a work-affecting health problem indicated that their capacity to work is reduced due to their health.

Table 11. Activity non-working mothers expected to be doing in five years' time, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Expected activityMother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Full-time work20.443.633.0
Part-time work20.225.930.9
Study or training2.63.32.5
Both work and study3.92.51.8
Home duties20.911.115.6
Don't know32.013.616.2
Number of observations178102701

Note: Overall, the activities respondents expected to be doing in five years' time differed significantly according to health problem grouping (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(9.91, 9702.27) = 4.051, p < .001)). However, closer analysis revealed that when examining the difference between those with work-affecting health problems and with no health problems for each activity individually, only full-time work (F(1, 979) = 13.14, p < .001), part-time work (F(1, 979) = 8.36, p < .01) and don't know (F(1, 979) = 15.49, p < .001) showed significant differences. 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

Expectations about being in paid work in five years' time appear to be linked to levels of attachment to the labour force. Those who had been in paid work within the five years prior to the study were twice as likely to expect to be working in five years as those who had either never worked or not worked for more than five years. This finding was consistent across all three health problem groups.

Those with a work-affecting health problem were twice as likely as those with no health problem to state that they didn't know what they expected to be doing in five years' time. In fact, this was the most common response for those with a work-affecting health problem (32%). This may indicate that respondents with long-term health problems find it difficult to predict whether or not they will be well enough in the future to participate in activities such as paid work or study. Also, these mothers were less educated and less likely to have worked in the five years prior to the FAWD survey, which may have contributed to their uncertainty about the future.

Even when the sample was restricted to those who said they would have liked to have been in paid work at the time of the survey (see Table 12), those with work-affecting health problems were still much less likely to have expected to be working than those with no health problem or with a non-work-affecting health problem, though differences were only significant for expectations of working in five years' time. These findings highlight the disproportionately large number of mothers with a work-affecting health problem whose desire to work is not met by expectations of being able to gain paid employment in the medium term.

Table 12. Non-working mothers' future work expectations and desire to work, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Expect to be workingMother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Mothers who would have liked to have been in paid work at time of survey
In 1 year's time44.353.854.1
In 5 years' time53.076.273.8
Mothers who would not have liked to have been in paid work at time of survey
In 1 year's time14.521.121.5
In 5 years' time33.967.656.8

Note: Differences in the proportions of those with work-affecting health problems and no health problems who expected to be working in one year's time were found to be non-significant, regardless of whether they wanted to be in paid work at the time of the survey (adjusted Wald test: (F(1, 581) = 3.15, p = .076)) or not (F(1, 386) = 2.06, p = .152). However, differences in the proportions of those with work-affecting health problems and no health problems who expected to working in five years' time were found to be significant for both those who wanted to be in paid work at the time of the survey (F(1, 575) = 13.65, p < .001) and those who didn't want to be in paid work (F(1, 384) = 11.74, p < .001). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

One possible explanation for the low number of mothers with long-term health problems who expected to be working in five years' time is related to the finding that their youngest children were, on average, older than those of mothers without a health problem. Having younger children, mothers without a health problem may assume that as their youngest child gets older, take-up of paid work will become more manageable. In contrast, through having older children, mothers with work-affecting health problems may have come to realise that caring for older children is sufficiently difficult a task to juggle together with managing their own health issues without adding the burden of participating in paid work.

In support of this hypothesis, Table 13 shows that mothers with work-affecting health problems were almost as likely as those with no health problems to expect to be working in five years if their youngest child was aged four years or less, but were much less likely to expect to be working in five years than those with no health problems if their youngest child was aged between 5 and 12 years. Interestingly, by the time the youngest child is aged 13 years or older, the expectations of those with work-affecting health problems and those with no health problems were once again similar.

Table 13. Non-working mothers' expectations about working in five years' time, by the age of their youngest child and whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Age of youngest childPer cent expecting to work in 5 years
Mother has health problemMother has no health problem
Work-affectingNon-work-affecting
4 or younger70.374.877.8
5 to 1240.771.864.7
13 or older41.773.044.8
Number of observations170100663

Note: The proportions of those who expected to working in five years' time differed significantly according to health problem grouping and age of youngest child (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(5.76, 3732.84) = 5.067, p < .001)). Caution needs to be taken when interpreting results for those with a non-work-affecting health problem whose youngest child was aged 13 or older, as numbers were small. 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

13 The actual questions respondents were asked were: "Would you like to be in a paid job at present?" "In a year's time, do you expect to be working, studying, doing home duties or something else?" "And what about in five year's time: Do you expect to be working, studying, doing home duties or something else?"

Expectations about the labour market

Expectations about the labour market

As well as having lower expectations about entering the paid workforce in the short-to-medium term, mothers with work-affecting health problems may have different perceptions than other mothers about the hours they could work and the income they could obtain if they were to undertake paid work. Wilkins (2003) found that employed Australian females with a disability worked on average 2 hours a week less than females without a disability. Brazenor (2002) found that, even when hours of work were taken into account, employed Australian females with a disability earned substantially less per week than those without a disability. While expectations will not necessarily match reality, lower levels of education, sporadic absences from the labour force due to worsening of conditions, and limitations on physical and mental capacities would be expected to contribute to lower average wage expectations and reductions in the number of hours mothers with work-affecting health problems expect to be able to work.

Expectations about the labour market may influence employment outcomes. Low expectations of obtainable work hours or labour market earnings may reduce the incentive to take up paid work, especially if income support payments will be reduced or withdrawn. Also, the degree to which earnings expectations are realistic may affect the ability of non-working mothers to achieve employment (Gray & Renda, 2006). If earnings expectations are unrealistically high, a job meeting those expectations is likely to be more difficult to obtain, and therefore the likelihood of being employed is lower.

In this section, expectations of both work hours and income are examined. Comparisons are not only drawn between the expectations of those with and without work-affecting health problems but also between expectations of those not working and the actual experiences of those employed. For income, expectations will be compared with predictions of what respondents could earn in the labour market.

In order to obtain a measure of expected weekly work hours, all non-working FAWD respondents were asked to indicate how many hours they would have expected to work if they had had a job at the time of the survey or in the following six months, taking into account how much money they would have wanted to earn. The responses are likely to be a combination of expectation and aspiration.

Table 14. Expected and actual work hours, by whether or not mothers report having long-term health problems
 Mother has health problemMother has no health problem
Work-affectingNon-work-affecting
Non-working mothers - Distribution of expected work hours
Less than 15 hours per week11.7%8.7%7.0%
15-34 hours per week61.4%61.6%64.6%
35+ hours per week27.0%29.7%28.3%
Non-working mothers - Average expected work hours
Mean25.226.326.4
Standard deviation10.610.29.8
Median252525
Number of observations14380509
Working mothers - Distribution of actual work hours
Less than 15 hours per week35.3%20.2%18.6%
15-34 hours per week39.4%46.6%49.0%
35+ hours per week25.4%33.2%32.4%
Working mothers - Average actual work hours
Mean23.627.226.8
Standard deviation15.213.714.0
Median202725
Number of observations981421095

Note: Differences in the distribution of expected work hours between those in each of the three health problems groups were non-significant (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(4, 2901) = 0.713, p = .583)). However, differences in the distribution of actual work hours were significant (F(4, 5322) = 3.429, p = .008). Difference in average expected and actual working hours were non-significant (Anova: expected hours: (F(2, 728) = 0.82, p = .441), actual hours: (F(2, 1332) = 2.22, p = .109)).

It was hypothesised that mothers with work-affecting health problems would expect to work fewer hours than other mothers; however, this was not the case. Results in Table 14 show that there was almost no difference in the distribution of expected work hours of non-working mothers with and without a long-term health problem. The majority of mothers in all three groups expected to work between 15 and 34 hours per week. The average expected hours were also very similar. In fact, the median number of desired weekly hours was the same across the three groups (25 hours).

For mothers who were working, however, there were significant differences in the distribution of weekly work hours of those with and without work-affecting health problems. The most marked difference was the higher proportion of mothers with work-affecting health problems who worked less than 15 hours per week (35.3% of mothers with work-affecting health problems compared to 20.2% of those with non-work-affecting health problems and 18.6% of those with no health problems). On average, mothers with a work-affecting health problem worked fewer hours per week than those in the other two groups (23.6% compared to 27.2% and 26.8%), though these differences were non-significant. Overall, these findings suggest that mothers with long-term health problems may expect to work similar hours to other mothers, but those with a job in reality work fewer hours.

The decision about employment is not just about determining the number of hours to work. It is also a decision about an adequate level of income that can be obtained from working those hours. Table 15 examines the minimum amount of pay mothers felt they would need to earn before it was deemed worthwhile to take a job (their reservation income).14 It was expected that those with work-affecting health problems would accept lower wages than other mothers; however, this expectation was not supported. There was very little difference in hourly reservation wages across the three health groups. The median reservation hourly earnings for those with a work-affecting health problem and those with no health problem were almost identical ($13.35 and $13.33 respectively).

Table 15. Reservation hourly income, by whether or not mothers report having long-term health problems
Reservation gross hourly wage (non-working mothers)Mother has health problemMother has no health problem
Work-affectingNon-work-affecting
Mean$15.00$15.66$14.38
Median$13.35$15.00$13.33
Standard deviation$10.03$6.55$6.20
Number of observations10958393

Note: Differences in desired and actual weekly income between those in each of the three health problems groups were non-significant (Anova: (F(2, 557) = 0.99, p = .372)). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

In order to examine the degree to which mothers' wage expectations are realistic, mothers' reservation wages were compared with estimates of what they would be likely to earn in the labour market. In order to obtain estimates of non-working mothers' likely labour market earnings, a model of the determinants of mothers' earnings was estimated, based on the wages and characteristics of working mothers in the FAWD sample. The results of the model were then used to estimate what each non-working mother would earn in the labour market given her observable characteristics.15 In order to increase the accuracy of the estimates, systematic differences between working and non-working mothers were controlled for. For details of the estimation model, see Gray and Renda (2006, pp. 23-24).

In Table 16, the difference between respondents' reservation and predicted hourly wages are recorded (that is, the results of subtracting respondents' predicted hourly wages from their reservation hourly wages). The prevalence of negative numbers indicates that for mothers in all three groups average reservation earnings were lower than average predicted earnings. In other words, non-working mothers in all three groups tended to underestimate their potential earnings from paid work.

Table 16. Difference between reservation and predicted hourly income, by whether or not mothers report having long-term health problems
 Mother has health problemMother has no health problem
Work-affectingNon-work-affecting
Difference per hour
Mean-$0.63-$1.15-$1.91
Median-$2.28-$1.98-$3.02
Standard deviation$10.26$5.47$5.77
Reservation wage more than $1 per hour above predicted wage27.5%20.1%17.9%
Number of observations10757388

Note: Mean differences between reservation and predicted hourly earnings do not differ significantly between those in each of the three health problem groups (Anova: (F(2, 551) = 1.55, p = .214)). Mean differences between reservation and predicted hourly earnings are not significantly different from zero for any of the health groups. The proportion of respondents who gave a reservation wage which was more than $1 above their predicted wage did not differ significantly across the three health groups (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(2, 1099.65) = 2.144, p = .118)). However the difference in the proportions of those with a work-affecting health problem and those with no health problem who gave a reservation wage of more than $1 above their predicted wage approached significance (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(1, 550) = 3.67, p = .056)). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

While mothers with work-affecting health problems had, on average, a smaller difference between their reservation and predicted wage than those in the other two groups, they were also more likely than those without health problems to overestimate their potential earnings in the labour market. This is demonstrated by the higher proportion whose reservation wage was more than one dollar above their predicted wage. Their reservation incomes were very similar to those for mothers without a health problem, but their predicted earnings were generally lower. Therefore, it appears that mothers with work-affecting health problems have less realistic expectations of the labour market and would be less likely than those without a health problem to find a job that paid their reservation income. This may indicate that mothers with work-affecting health problems are less likely to have tested the employment market.

In order to further explore the relationship between desire to work and the ability to gain employment for mothers with long-term health problems, the focus will now turn to respondents' perceptions of their level of difficulty in finding a job that meets their wage and hours expectations. In the FAWD survey, respondents who were able to give their expected hours and reservation income were asked how difficult or easy they thought it would be to find a job with their desired hours and income. Those who said that they thought it would be difficult or very difficult were then asked why they thought it would be difficult. In Table 17, those with and without long-term health problems are compared in terms of how easy or difficult they felt it would be to find a job with their expected hours and reservation income.

Table 17. Mothers' level of perceived difficulty in finding job with expected hours and income, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Perceived difficultyMother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Easy22.815.933.2
Quite difficult33.649.736.7
Very difficult30.823.924.9
Don't know12.810.55.2
Number of observations10764424

Note: Respondents' perceived level of difficulty in finding their desired job differed significantly according to health problem grouping (design-based Pearson test statistic: (F(5.97, 3533.64) = 3.009, p = .006)). 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

There were significant differences in the level of perceived difficulty felt by mothers with and without long-term health problems. Those who had a work-affecting health problem were more likely to report that it would be "very difficult" to find a job with their expected hours and level of pay than those who had no health problem or who had a non-work-affecting health problem. Further analysis by relationship status revealed that lone mothers were responsible for this difference. While there was virtually no difference in perceived level of difficulty across the three health groups for couple mothers, a disproportionately large number of lone mothers with a work-affecting health problem thought it would be "very difficult" to find a job that matched their hours and income expectations.

Those who reported having a non-work-affecting health problem were least likely to report that finding a job matching their expectations would be "easy". Also, those who had a long-term health problem (whether it affected their ability to work or study or not) were more likely to not know how easy or difficult it would be to find their desired job (again suggesting a lack of knowledge about the labour market and perhaps reflecting a lower likelihood of having tested the market).

Table 18 includes only those who thought it would be "quite difficult" or "very difficult" to find their desired job and examines reasons for the perceived difficulty. The only significant difference in responses given by those with and without work-affecting health problems was in the proportion who mentioned health problems as a reason for perceiving difficulty in finding their desired job. As one would expect, those with a work-affecting health problem were the group most likely to report a health problem as a reason for their perceived difficulty.

Table 18. Mothers' reasons for perceived difficulty in finding a job with expected hours and income, by whether or not they report having long-term health problems
Reasons for perceived difficultyMother has health problemMother has no health problem (%)
Work-affecting (%)Non-work-affecting (%)
Health problems*14.61.30.0
No suitable jobs or jobs would want14.115.618.6
No suitable hours/flexibility22.216.522.9
No jobs fit with kids' needs12.512.711.8
No jobs in good location/nearby21.015.620.9
No up-to-date skills/experience20.428.623.3
Insufficient education/qualifications20.119.814.8
Employer wouldn't give me a job9.46.811.0
Age-related issues7.612.710.1
Other8.52.95.3
Total150.4132.5138.7
Number of observations6847259

Note: Significance of difference in reasons for perceived difficulty in finding a desired job between those with and without long-term health problems: * p < .01 (design-based Pearson test statistic). Percentages add up to more than 100 because respondents could give more than one reason for not working. 
Source: FAWD survey, 2002.

However, of those with a work-affecting health problem, only 14.6% referred to their health problem as a reason why it would be difficult to find their desired job. This may be a result of the responses being unprompted. Some respondents may have given other reasons related to their health rather than directly mentioning the health problem itself. For example, 9.4% of those with a work-affecting health problem said that employers wouldn't give them a job. Past research has found that those with long-term health problems are often faced with employer prejudice (Burrow, 2002; Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission [HREOC], 1993; Tomas, 1991); therefore it may be the health problem that influenced this response, at least for some of the respondents. It is interesting to note, however, that this reason was also given by 11% of those without a health problem. Other reasons that may relate to health problems include: "no jobs in a good location or nearby" and "insufficient education or qualifications". Transport issues (WWDA, 2003) and low levels of education (Crosse, 2004; HREOC, 1993; Russo & Jansen, 1988) have also been found to be barriers to employment for people with long-term health problems. However, those with long-term health problems were no more likely than those without to cite these reasons as explanations for their perceived difficulty, though this may be another result of responses not being prompted.

14 In the FAWD survey, non-working mothers were asked a series of questions designed to gain a measure of their reservation incomes: "...if you had a job now or in the next 6 months: 'How many hours would you expect to work, taking into account how much money you want to earn?' 'And (for those hours) how much money would you need to be offered in a new job before you felt it worth taking?' 'If you couldn't find a job paying that much, would you accept less money?'"

15 Characteristics included in the model include: having a health problem, having poor or fair health, educational attainment, age, NESB and migrant status, and state and region of residence.

Concluding comments

Concluding comments

Non-working mothers with work-affecting long-term health problems were just as likely as other mothers to want to be in paid work. However, when it comes to turning the desire to work into a reality, mothers with work-affecting health problems seemed to be less confident and less likely to succeed. Even when they expressed a desire to be in paid work, non-working mothers with work-affecting health problems were less likely than other mothers to expect to be working in the future, particularly in the medium term (in five years' time).

While mothers with work-affecting health problems had similar expectations of the hours they would work and the income they could earn if they were in a paid job, they appeared to be less likely to be able to achieve their expectations. The reservation incomes of mothers with and without work-affecting health problems were very similar, but the predicted earnings of those with work-affecting health problems were generally lower.

Health problems featured readily in the reasons given by mothers with work-affecting health problems for not being in paid work and for the difficulties they perceived they would have in finding a job that met their wage and hours expectations. Often respondents referred directly to their health problems, but they also sometimes gave other reasons that could be linked indirectly to their poor health. Furthermore, those with health problems, regardless of whether they were work-affecting or not, were more likely than those with no health problems to state that they were not working due to others' health needs.

On the whole, mothers with work-affecting health problems appeared to have greater difficulty in gaining paid employment than other mothers. They also appeared to be aware of this difficulty. Therefore, policies that aim to reduce the limitations that having a health problem has on employment opportunities, and thus increase confidence in being able to enter paid work, may assist in increasing the employment rates of these mothers.

Such a policy approach is more likely to be effective for the substantial proportion of mothers with work-affecting health problems who indicated a desire to work, but did not expect to gain employment in the short to medium term (21%) or were uncertain about what they expected to be doing in the future (30%). These mothers tended to have lower levels of education and were less likely than other mothers to have been employed in the five years prior to the study. Therefore, policies that focus on preparing the individual for entry into paid work may benefit these mothers. Such policies include improved access to vocational education and training and tailored assistance for finding paid work.

Access to vocational education and training is likely to be of particular importance to mothers with health problems who have little workforce experience or who require re-skilling because their health condition places limitations on the jobs they can do using their current skill set. Support to facilitate the successful transition from training into employment, such as intensive job search assistance, is also important. Past research has found that, while education and training are important for improving employment prospects for people with health conditions, those with health problems are still less likely than others to gain employment, even after completing education or training courses (Australian Disability Training Advisory Council, 2005; TAFE NSW Disability Programs Unit, 2005).

Employment opportunities for mothers with long-term health problems may also be improved by policies that focus on reducing the effect of "external barriers" to employment associated with having a disability or health condition. Such barriers include: a lack of suitable jobs (Graffam & Naccarella, 1994; Walker, 2002); transport issues (WWDA, 2003); negative employer attitudes (ABS, 1998); and financial disincentives (Walker, 2002; Wolfe & Hill, 1995). Policies that could help to reduce these barriers include those that: assist those with health issues with costs associated with participating in paid employment (for example, transport costs, costs associated with loss of concessions, and subsidies and personal care costs); assist employers with costs associated with employing a person with a long-term health problem (for example, the cost of making changes to the workplace and additional equipment); and prevent discrimination against those with health problems.

Future research in this area could focus on those with long-term health problems who have been successful in gaining and maintaining employment and to examine the factors that contributed to their success. Experiences of employers' and colleagues' attitudes, severity of health problems and availability of social supports could be examined. Analysis could also be carried out to explore the effects of not turning expectations or desire to work into a reality for those with work-affecting health problems. The focus could be on the effects on various aspects of their lives, such as financial and emotional wellbeing, as well as on the coping strategies used. The impact of additional barriers to employment, such as caring for someone with a health problems, could also be examined.

References

References

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List of tables

List of tables

Acknowledgements

The analysis in this paper is based upon the results of the Family and Work Decisions Survey that was conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) in partnership with the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. A previous version of this paper was presented at the AIFS Conference, 9-11 February 2005, Melbourne, Australia. The author would like to thank Matthew Gray, Michael Alexander, Ruth Weston, Russell Ross and Sara Charlesworth for their input into previous versions of this paper.

Citation

Renda, J. (2007). Employment aspirations of non-working mothers with long-term health problems (Research Paper No. 40). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

ISBN

978 0 642 39551 1

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