Aussie Fathers Juggling Long Hours with Family Demands

New research shows Australian fathers spend just as much time caring for their children as Danish fathers, despite working longer hours.

While Australian men are often criticised for not doing housework and child care, they come out favourably compared with men in France and Italy, reports The Australian.

The study, Work and Family Time: Australia in Comparative Perspective, compared time demands on families with young children and gender division of work and care in Australia, the US, Italy, France and Denmark.

Lyn Craig, co-author of the study, is senior research fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW. She was surprised to find Australian fathers had such high combined paid and unpaid workloads.

Ms Craig, who researches work-family balance and gender equity, says 42 per cent of Australian men in the study work more than 50 hours a week.

Craig believes Australian men work longer hours (as do men in the US) than their counterparts in Denmark, France and Italy because we have a less regulated market and as individuals we pay more for things such as housing, day care and contributory superannuation than people do in some European countries.

"We also seem to be very family oriented and theoretically in favour of gender equity.

"The countries where men do much less [France and Italy] have very traditional gender attitudes,'' Ms Craig says.

Still, Australian mothers work even longer hours, many of them unpaid in the caring role, and Ms Craig says it is hard to see how gender inequity will shift if there isn't a structural change, lessening the very high time pressures of employment and care on Australian families.

Ms Craig says it may be unrealistic to expect men to take more of the share of caring in the absence of other structural changes.

"I think the assumption that mothers can do more paid work and up productivity, and fathers can do more child care and make things more equal in the home, are unrealistic unless they cut back on other forms of labour.

"Everybody says: 'Australia really has a low maternal employment; we should up that. Caring is unequal between men and women; we should alter that.'

"If you don't address the whole context, however, you can't alter either of those things,'' Ms Craig says.

Australian fathers want to spend more time with their families and previous research indicates they are more satisfied and less stressed at work when they do.

This research highlights that Australian men put a high priority on spending time with their wife and children together, she adds.

The notion that it takes a village to raise a child is well understood in France and Denmark, where caring for young children is seen as a social responsibility.

"There is more social support and the family is not expected to bear the whole burden.

"'There seems to be lower expectations of the time investments that constitute adequate parenting,'' Ms Craig says.

She says improving work-life reconciliation and promoting care-work parity would require multiple adjustments, such as lower paid-work hours, worker-controlled flexibility and the guaranteed right to return to work after paid maternity leave, alongside high quality, affordable child care.


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