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Copyright 2005

Mothering and Work
By Allyson Griffith

Looking at the Family and Work Decision study

Our vision of work and family life is changing rapidly, with little published data to provide us with an understanding of real life experiences.

Recognising this lack of empirical research, the Australian Institute of Family Studies recently investigated attitudes held by mothers towards money and paid work. This is a summary of some of their key findings.

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Family Studies were interested to understand the ways mothers and their partners had combined parenting and paid work since first having their children, and how those decisions were made.

Through interviewing 61 mothers, both partnered and lone mothers, in the '04 study Mothers' reflections about work and family life they found a range of attitudes towards work and earning money affected their decision to be involved in the paid workforce.

Four distinct groups became apparent in the study. The groups differed according to whether they were in the paid workforce or not, and whether money played a role in that decision. The report identified that mothers tend to move between work/not working/finances important models during their lives in response to circumstances.

Let’s look at those four groups and some of the main responses from each group.

Group 1:     Mothers not working, with money not influential on their choice       

33 % of respondents

Women who have a strong preference to be at home with children or feel it is very important that they themselves care for children, may stay home regardless of the income they could earn in the labour market. Partnered women were represented in higher numbers in this group, reflecting that partnered women are in a better financial position to stay at home.

Significant factors/beliefs:

·    being an ‘absent mum’ or working mum was not seen as being a good mum

·    they had a strong preference for being at home with their children

·    most expected to return to the paid workforce ‘when their children were old enough’

·    many acknowledged they had less money as a result of their choice, but valued time with the children over income potential.

 Group 2:     Mothers working, with money influential on their choice

36 % of respondents

More lone mothers than partnered mothers stated finances were a major factor influencing their work decisions. Many lone mothers also felt a strong moral expectation and social pressure to work.

Significant factors/beliefs:

·    mothers working only or for financial reasons

·    although some mothers identified their reasons for working including buying ‘extras’, others stated they were working out of financial need or to survive

·    of those who worked out of need, they conceded they didn’t want to work, or work as much as they did, but felt it was necessary to do so

·    mothers, especially lone mothers with specific financial goals, were conscious of the need to work towards these, and many returned to work earlier than they otherwise would have.

Group 3:     Mothers working, with money not influential on their choice

20 % of respondents

This group included mothers who were working for a range of reasons, whose focus was on non-financial rewards including having a strong worker identity, a career they loved and that fulfilled them, the need for social interaction and activities outside the home.

Significant factors/beliefs:

·    the group included mothers who placed a high value on having their own income, being financially independent

·    for partnered women this meant having their own finances to use

·    for lone women this meant self-sufficiency, independence from family, friends and government assistance.

Group 4:           Mothers not working, money influential on their choice

11.5 % of respondents

This group includes mothers who wanted to work but thought it was not financially worth it. For most lone mothers in the group access to discounted childcare allowed working to be financially viable up to a certain point and this was emphasised by many respondents, however after a certain number of hours the costs of childcare increased, outweighing the financial gains of increased working hours, especially as other benefits were cut out.

Significant factors/beliefs:

·    all were conscious of the costs associated with working and the family payments they would lose if they started working

·    the partnered women in this group said it would only be financially viable to work fulltime. Most had partners working fulltime but on low incomes, qualifying them for government benefits

·    the lone mothers in the group found working fulltime was not viable but part time work was

·    for some of the lone mothers in this group the loss of access to public housing was a deterrent to working, as was the loss of access to affordable study.

As you may expect, central to the decision making process of mothers when considering paid work is the wellbeing of their children. The relationship situation, partners’ employment status and age of children have as much bearing on the mother’s choice of work as their beliefs about working and parenting.

A small number of women in the study worked for primary reasons other than financial necessity, such as social interaction and career fulfillment. Most mothers weighed the financial costs and benefits of paid work.

The impact of government policy could strongly affect some employment decisions for families. The study found some mothers would be able to return to the paid workforce if it were more financially rewarding, or there were no financial barriers. Increased government support would assist some mothers to stay home longer than currently able to, and allow others to return to work.

Main source

Hand, K. and Hughes, J. (2004), 'Mothers' reflections about work and family life.' Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer 2004: 44-49.


Allyson Griffith is a mother of two in Melbourne. With experience in radio and writing for the web, Allyson now shares the childcare with her husband as both work part time

 

 

 

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