Australian Bureau of Statistics
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/06/2004
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Family Functioning: Families with no employed parent
CHARACTERISTICS OF FAMILIES WITH NO EMPLOYED PARENT
In both financial and social terms, families with no employed resident parent can be disadvantaged relative to families living with an employed parent. However, this is not always the case as people are not in employment for a range of reasons. While some may be unable to obtain employment, others may have an alternative source of income, choose to stay at home (for example, to care for children) or be unable to work (for example, due to ill-health).
In 2001, 83% of lone parents who were not employed were not in the labour force (that is, not actively looking for work) rather than unemployed. Among one-parent families where the parent was not employed but was looking for work, the majority were looking for part-time (58%) rather than full-time employment. This could reflect the difficulty of managing work and home responsibilities without the support of a resident partner.
In 2001, of couples in which both of the partners were not employed, 60% had both partners not in the labour force and a further 9% had both partners unemployed. Among such couple families where both partners were looking for work, 59% of the couples were both looking for full-time employment.
According to the 2001 census, 18% of children under 15 years (over 660,000 children) lived in a household with no employed parent, with over half (61%) of these living in one-parent families.
In half (50%) of all the couple families with no employed parent, the youngest child was aged less than five years, and in a further 27% the youngest child was aged 5-9 years, while in the remaining 23% the youngest child was aged 10-14 years. A considerable proportion (44%) of one-parent families with the parent not employed were families with their youngest child aged less than five years and a further 32% were families in which the youngest child was aged 5-9 years.
Families with no employed parent were more likely to have a larger number of children than were families with at least one employed parent. In 2001, of families with children aged less than 15 years, around one-quarter (27%) of couple families with no employed parent, and one-fifth (19%) of such one-parent families, had three or more children living in the family. In comparison, of families with at least one employed parent, 20% of couple families and 9% of one-parent families had three or more children.
The economic wellbeing of families is largely determined by their income. Partners in a relationship and dependent children generally share the family's income. Income estimates are equivalised to take into account household size and composition (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Household income, pp. 142-145).
FAMILIES(a) WITH CHILDREN UNDER 15 YEARS: Equivalised gross household income distribution - 2001
In 2001, for a large proportion of couple families with no employed parent (79%) and one-parent families with the parent not employed (88%), the equivalised gross household income was less than $300 per week.
Only a small proportion (15%) of families with an employed parent had an equivalised household income less than $300 per week. The proportions of couple and one-parent families with no employed parent were highest in the $200-$299 equivalised household income range.
OTHER EMPLOYED PEOPLE IN THE HOUSEHOLD
While the employment status of parents can be particularly influential for a family, having other family members in employment can affect economic wellbeing and offer role models for children. Also, while most Australian families are formed around a couple or parent relationship and live in a household by themselves, some families share their dwelling with other families or other related and unrelated individuals, any of whom may be employed (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Changing families, pp.35-39). Whilst the employed person may or may not share their income with the family, there are potential economic gains such as shared dwelling costs. Such household members may also provide a role model for children in the household in terms of being an employed adult.
In 2001, 13% of couple families with no employed parent lived in a residence where someone was employed. In almost half (49%) of couple families, the person employed was a non-dependant child. In some of these couple families more than one person was employed (12%). In comparison, 16% of one-parent families, with the parent not employed, lived in a residence where someone was employed.
In almost one-quarter (23%) of these one-parent families, the person employed was a non-dependant child. Also, in 14% of these families more than one person was employed.
The remainder of the article uses data from the 2002 General Social Survey (GSS). Analysing GSS data on family households where no resident parent was employed provides insight into the financial stress and social wellbeing of families with no employed parent.
SELECTED INDICATORS OF FINANCIAL STRESS(a) IN FAMILY HOUSEHOLDS - 2002
In 2002, just over 600,000 children aged less than 15 years were living with no employed resident parent. Their families were more likely to report financial difficulties than were families where at least one parent was employed. Their families were also more likely to be affected by selected indicators of financial stress than families where at least one parent was employed.
In 2002, of families with no employed resident parent, just under two-thirds (64%) of the one-parent families, and over one half (51%) of the couple families, felt that they could not raise $2,000 within a week. Conversely, only 15% of all other families felt they could not raise this amount. Also, of families with no employed resident parent, a greater proportion of the one-parent families (49%) and the couple families (36%) had difficulty paying bills on time than did other family households (17%). Similarly, of the families with no employed resident parent, both one-parent (32%) and couple families (19%) were more likely to have sought financial help from family or friends than were other families (10%).
Participation in paid work is only one way in which individuals can feel a sense of social inclusion and build social networks. Social networks can also be built through volunteer work, participation in sporting or recreation clubs, as well as through family and friends. If members of families with no employed parent do not have means of social participation unrelated to employment, then feelings of exclusion and isolation could be experienced by the entire family.
Social participation, in itself valuable, can also help people to develop skills that may be useful in gaining paid employment. In 2002, a substantial majority of adults in families with no employed resident parent did interact with wider social networks, but overall these interactions were less likely than for adults in other families. Three-quarters (75%) of adults in couple families with no employed resident parent participated in selected social activities, compared to 90% of adults in one-parent families with no resident employed parent and 96% of adults in other families. Adults in both couple families and one-parent families with no employed resident parent (85% and 92% respectively) were less likely to feel able to gain support in a time of crisis than did adults in other families (96%).
For more information on social participation, see Australian Social Trends 2004, Social interactions outside home, pp. 35-40.
1 Reference Group on Welfare Reform 2000, Participation Support for a More Equitable Society: Final Report of the Reference Group on Welfare Reform, Department of Family and Community Services, Canberra.
2 Gregory, RG 1999, Children and the changing labour market: Joblessness in families with dependent children, Discussion Paper No.406, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.
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