Giselle Haber said it is stressful juggling her job and caring for three children. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)
As more mothers struggle to balance professional work and manage work-family tension, the cost of child care has more than doubled over the past two decades.
- More women are working than ever before, with their employment rate rising to 71 per cent in 2017
- Working mothers in full-time jobs have the highest ‘work-family conflict’ levels
- There has been a significant increase in young women with depression and anxiety
The latest annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey found the median cost of child care for children not yet in school rose by around 145 per cent in the 2002–2017 period.
The research found in part, this is the result of increased uptake of childcare services. However, hourly costs of care for young children have also been rising.
In contrast, Australian household incomes have on average remained at the same level since 2009.
Giselle Haber, who works as a photographer and has three children, says her kids enjoyed going to child care, and it made it possible for her to get back into work, but it was not easy.
“Some of the places are $160 to $175 a day,” she said.
“For some women, it’s not worth it because their salary might not be good enough to justify going back to work, so a lot of women choose to stay at home to look after their kids because the cost is so exorbitant.”
The report found the majority of parents have experienced some sort of difficulty over the last 12 months when using or thinking about using child care.
Parents are increasingly worried about the cost of child care, finding care for a sick child and finding care at short notice.
More women are working than ever before
Women are working more than ever before, with the working-age employment rate rising to 71 per cent in 2017, the highest it has been in the history of the survey.
Report author Professor Roger Wilkins said the growth area had been mothers with young children.
Between the 2001–2017 period, mean weekly earnings of full-time employees increased 24 per cent for women, as opposed to 20 per cent for men.
Median weekly earnings for men have fallen since 2014, and by contrast, earnings of full-time employed women have continued to grow.
But overall since 2001 there has been a rise in pay inequality and women continue to do most of the caring and housework.
Giselle Haber said many workplaces were not understanding of the demands working mothers faced daily. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito )
Clinical psychologist Daniel Condon said many women experience stress at work and then find themselves dealing with household chores and looking after their kids’ emotional needs at home.
“When they peak, when there are issues at school or friendship issues … very often women just automatically feel it’s their role to step in and solve those,” he said.
“And on the converse, often the fathers are opting out of that and taking more practical support.”
Mr Condon said women were doing too much work at home and needed to speak to their partners about stepping up.
“Things do need to change and it needs to start from a household, grassroots level where people are having these difficult conversations and calling things as they are,” he said.
Rise in stress as families juggle competing priorities
Traditionally, men reported higher levels of “work-family conflict” but that has dropped since 2001, while the number of women in full-time work reporting this stress has risen.
Working mothers have the highest level of work-family tension as they struggle with the stress of balancing work and family life, and women overall have higher work-family conflict than men.
Ms Haber juggles her work with raising two school-aged kids and a four-month-old baby.
When she works, she asks someone to come over to look after the kids, or her husband will come home early, then she has to express milk for the baby.
“Sometimes it’s not easy, she’ll just cry the whole time when I’m gone. I’ve even taken her with me sometimes,” she said.
“We’re women, we have to multi-function, multi-task and do the best we can.”
Professor Wilkins said mothers increasingly reported not having enough time to take care of their kids. (ABC News: Patrick Stone)
Professor Wilkins said this was often due to traditional gender roles in the home being “quite sticky”.
“Women who are in full-time employment are still carrying the brunt of the responsibility for managing the home and care of the children, and so … that hasn’t really kept pace with what’s been happening in the labour market now,” he said.
“Women’s increased participation in the labour market has certainly had implications for work-life balance and basically it’s made it a lot harder to achieve for many families, particularly young families.”
Work–family conflict is based on questions related to work–family gains and strains including: ‘working causes me to miss out on some of the rewarding aspects of being a parent’ and ‘because of the requirements of my job, my family time is less enjoyable and more pressured’.
Mr Cordon said working women experienced high levels of stress at home without the ability to rest.
He warned that if a women’s neurological system remained in a stressed state for a sustained period without having an opportunity to recover, she was at risk of that stress becoming a mental illness, such as anxiety.
“The brain and the body are becoming depleted of the important feel-good, healthy, restorative chemicals that they need, and when there is that imbalance, it’s just really fertile ground for mental illness,” he said.
Experts said the rise of young women with depression and anxiety was likely linked to social media use. (ABC News: Elise Pianegonda)
Spike in young women with depression and anxiety
The report found there has been a substantial increase in reported diagnosis of depression and anxiety across all age groups, most notably in young people.
Young women aged between 15-34 have the highest level of diagnosis, and this has significantly increased over time — from 12 per cent in 2009 to 20 per cent in 2017.
Professor Wilkins said more people may be seeking treatment, but the rise of social media is also likely a contributor.
“The growth has been strongest amongst younger people who tend to be more actively engaged with social media,” he said.
There has been an increase in young adults participating in education, with women aged 22-25 rising from 13 per cent in 2001 to 24 per cent in 2017.
The report said young women were also delaying their departure from the parental home to undertake further education.