Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Lone Mothers' Time Allocations: Choices and Satisfactions

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Lone Mothers' Time Allocations: Choices and Satisfactions

Article excerpt

Introduction

In many Western countries, including Australia, the number of lone parent families has increased considerably in recent times. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2007) show that in 1986 there were around 311,800 lone parent families with young (under 15 years of age) children in Australia. These represented 14 per cent of all families with young children. By June 2005 the number of lone parent families with young children had increased to 463,000, 21 per cent of all families with young children. At June 2011 lone parent families with young children under 15 years of age numbered 491,000, which is also 21 per cent of families with young children (ABS 2011).

The links between the growth in lone parent families in Australia and the welfare system have been examined by Gregory and his colleagues (2008). The care lone parents provide to their children has also been investigated, as 'Without a partner, it is difficult for single mothers to provide the time and attention that children receive in two-parent homes' (Kendig & Bianchi 2008: 1228). Craig and Mullan (2012) broadened the scope of this type of inquiry though examination of the child care time of lone mothers and mothers in couple families, and by providing comparisons across Australia, the United States, France and Denmark, countries described as having '... differing normative ideals about mother-care, and policy approaches to work-family reconciliation and to employment activation of lone mothers' (Craig & Mullan 2012: 512). In overseas research there has also been examination of how lone parents balance their time use across child care, household work and employment, and the so-called work/family role strain among lone parents. The latter topic has led to consideration of satisfaction with specific time allocations, and to examination of the overall levels of happiness of lone parents in comparison to other family types.

If lone parents react to the work/family role strain by providing less child care, and child care is important for the future economic and social success of their children, then addressing the time constraint through welfare policy, or at least reversing some of the more recent changes in this regard in Australia, may have merit. As discussed by Summerfield and colleagues (2010), the changes over 2006 to 2008 to income support eligibility requirements, known as the Welfare to Work reforms, aimed to increase the rate of workforce participation of sole parents, taking into account their caring responsibilities. Yet while these reforms may have led to greater workforce involvement, they may not have necessarily have resulted in an improved income position, or overall level of well-being. As Summerfield and colleagues (2010: 76) note:

   the key to reducing welfare dependency for single mothers
   is in creating an infrastructure to support mothers in the
   workforce and increase fathers' involvement in the care of
   their children, whether or not they are separated. The effect of
   these reforms, however, is to increase the risk of women and
   children experiencing poverty in the short to medium term after
   separation, with little guarantee they will prosper financially in
   the long run.

In this context, it is also important to consider time uses other than child care and employment, as lone parents may face different trade-offs from those of other groups. For example, in couple families with children, the main trade-off for the mother may be between market work and child care, whereas for lone mothers the main trade-off may be between leisure and child care. To the extent that individuals place different valuations on time allocated to leisure, child care, market work and other activities, the time pressures that lone mothers face may result in a lower quality of life. An assessment of this can be gained through study of satisfaction with the overall allocation of time. …

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