Childcare still the main reason holding women back from employment

Angus Kidman 12 December 2017 NEWS


Almost a quarter of women seeking more work say childcare challenges are the main barrier.

Well, this is slightly depressing. New figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that there's still a massive gender divide when it comes to the reasons why people who want to work can't actually do more hours.

The ABS produces a regular biannual report on "barriers to labour force participation", identifying the blockages that stop people becoming employed, or switching to more hours.

"The good news is that we are seeing a continued increase in female participation in the labour force, but the data shows that childcare remains the biggest challenge," ABS chief economist Bruce Hockman said in a statement announcing the report.

"Around 159,000 women, representing around a quarter of women who wanted to do more work or start working, the main perceived barrier was the need to look after children. This was an increase from 19 percent or 142,000 women in 2014-15."

It's not great to think that problem's getting worse. The detailed figures show just how different the issues are amongst men and women. Here are the main reasons for not seeking additional work (amongst people over 18 who wanted a job or more hours and were available):

Reason Males Females
No need/satisfied with current arrangements/retired (for now) 17.7% 7.8%
Lacks necessary training/qualifications/experience 5.5% 4%
Considered too old by employers 8.4% 5.7%
Unable to work because of disability 6.3% 4.6%
No jobs with suitable conditions/arrangements 7.6% 5.5%
Short-term sickness or injury 12.6% 4.8%
No jobs or vacancies in locality/line of work/at all 10.7% 4.6%
Studying/returning to studies 13.2% 13%
Caring for children 4.6% 23.9%
Caring for ill/disabled/elderly person 1.5% 5.2%

The only reason in which there's a similar proportion of men and women is studying. Women are far more likely to cite the need to care for children or an elderly relative. Men are far more likely to cite a short-term injury or a lack of work in their area.

The report also breaks out the reasons why childcare is a challenge for women. It doesn't offer the same figures for men, presumably due to the low overall percentage of men who identified that as an issue. Here they are (the percentages are of the whole group of respondents, not just those who highlighted childcare):

Reason % of total
Childcare not available/childcare booked out/no childcare in locality 3.1%
Children too young or too old for childcare 2.8%
Preferred to look after children 9%
Cost/too expensive 4.6%
Other childcare reasons 3.4%

By far the most common reason is "preferred to look after own children". In that scenario, it's hard to imagine many women changing their minds, at least until their kids are much older.

The next most common issue was the cost of childcare. This is a widely acknowledged issue, with some research suggesting the effective post-childcare wages for many women is as low as $5 an hour. While the gender pay gap is shrinking slightly, women still only earn 78% of what men do on average.

That's not right, and it's also likely to perpetuate the current stereotypes. If you're earning less than your partner, you're less likely to stick in work or seek more work. Cheaper childcare would be welcome, but equal pay would make a bigger difference in the long run.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on

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