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Family and work: the family's perspective

By Virginia Lewis, Jacqueline Tudball and Kelly Hand - posted Saturday, 15 September 2001

In research and public discourse, the issue of the relationship between work and family life has largely focused on working parents, and the stress that they may experience from "balancing" their roles. There has been very little Australian qualitative research that explores the experience of family life for working families, particularly from the perspective of children.

Our paper reports preliminary results from qualitative research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies with 69 parents and 71 children from 47 families in Melbourne. In-depth one-on-one interviews about work and family were conducted with parents and their children aged eight years and over.

There were 18 single parent families, and 29 two-parent families. Of the single-parent families, eight of the parents were in full-time employment, seven were in part-time employment and three had no regular paid work. Of the two-parent families, eight were families with both parents in full-time work, 16 had one parent in full-time work and the other in part-time work. In the remaining families, both parents worked part-time, or one had no regular paid employment. These classifications represent the families’ current employment patterns. In reality, most of the families have had different work patterns across the lives of the children, so current patterns of employment do not necessarily reflect the children’s experiences for their whole lives, or even the greater part of their lives.


Most of the parents interviewed in the study were born in Australia (n= 55), with the remaining 14 born in South Africa, Italy, Fiji, England, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Egypt, Uganda, Vietnam and the Philippines. Only one interview was conducted with the assistance of an interpreter.

Parents ranged in age from 31 to 58, while children interviewed ranged in age from eight to 21. Forty of the children were male, 31 were female.

The education background and range of occupations of parents reflected the breadth of the sampling procedure. While half the sample had either degree or post-graduate qualifications, 16 parents had completed Year 12 or lower, and 14 had trade, certificate or diploma qualifications.

The range of occupations which parents were employed in was similarly broad, including professionals such as social workers, teachers, social scientists; and accountants; para-professionals, such as nurses and child care workers; tradespersons and apprentices, such as carpenters and cooks; clerks such as secretaries, receptionists, office administration workers; labourers; and machinists and drivers.

Interview schedules

The adult interview schedule covered the following areas:

  • parent’s employment;
  • family’s typical daily routine;
  • experiences of using Non-parental care;
  • time spent with children;
  • parenting self-efficacy;
  • children’s knowledge of parents’ work;
  • parent’s working practices;
  • perceptions about impact of work on family; and
  • final overview questions.

The children’s interview schedule covered the following areas:

  • family’s typical daily routine;
  • children’s knowledge of parents’ work;
  • experience of non-parental care;
  • time spent with parents;
  • parents’ working practices;
  • perceived Impact of work on family;
  • "all the money in the world" question; and
  • child’s future plans - future career; family plans; work and family plan.


In drawing conclusions from this research, it must be remembered that all the children who were interviewed were aged eight and over. This research cannot comment on the experiences of families with only younger children. It should also be noted that very few of the parents worked extremely long hours, with only a couple of families having a parent who reported working more than 50 hours per week.

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This is an edited extract from a paper commissioned from the Australian Institute of Family Studies by the Department of Family and Community Services and the Marriage and Family Council. Click here for the full text of the report.

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About the Authors

Dr Virginia Lewis is a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Jacqueline Tudball is a Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Kelly Hand is a Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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