Abstract

The employment rate of mothers in Australia has increased over recent decades, but there is ongoing interest in exploring whether there are barriers to mothers’ employment that may be addressed through government policy, or whether certain groups of mothers are disproportionately affected by such barriers. The more recent policy attention has been in regard to parental leave and formal child care. In this presentation I show that there has clearly been an increase in the use of employer-provided leave by mothers over recent years, although this varies by socio demographic characteristics. However, as well as formal leave and formal child care, mothers often rely on informal practices that allow them to maintain a significant focus on family-provided care of children. For example, if employed, mothers often prefer to work part-time hours or use other flexible work practises, especially while children are very young. This is far less common for fathers, who typically work long full-time hours regardless of children’s age. Further, while formal and subsidised child care is available, it can be expensive, difficult to get into and lack the flexibility that some parents need. Many families use informal child care arrangements, such as grandparent care, while children are very young. This paper discusses trends and patterns in mothers’ return to work in Australia, drawing on analyses of survey and census data, to highlight the flexible approaches mothers use when combining work and the care of young children.