Mapping patterns and perceptions of maternal labour force participation : influences, trade-offs and policy implications

McDonald, Paula K. (2003) Mapping patterns and perceptions of maternal labour force participation : influences, trade-offs and policy implications. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis investigated patterns in, and perceptions of, labour force participation (LFP) amongst a group of mothers with dependent children. A mixed-methods (i.e. questionnaires, interviews and documentary evidence), single case study approach involving a series of three studies, was utilised, involving employees and ex-employees from the Queensland University of Technology. Using questionnaire data (N = 283), Study One explored the predictive value of seven structural (age of youngest child, education, childcare costs, wages, partner's income, number of children and social security payments) and four attitudinal (attitudes towards working mothers, sex-role attitudes, attitudes towards exclusive maternal care and career salience) factors, in a hierarchical logistic regression model using full-time / part-time work status as the dependent variable. Associations between these factors and hours worked, were also tested for a sub-sample of women with under school aged children (N = 112). Results showed that the factors leading to greater LFP for both samples were having older children, less access to social security payments and more liberal attitudes towards working mothers. Lower levels of partner's income also predicted full-time status for the larger sample and more liberal attitudes towards exclusive maternal care was associated with hours worked for women with under school aged children. Study Two explored the way in which women with under school aged children describe the influences, benefits and trade-offs associated with their LFP decisions. Analysis of data from interviews with a sub-sample of women from Study One, indicated four major categories of issues influenced LFP decisions and/or contributed to benefits or trade-offs following on from those decisions. These categories included financial issues, personal independence, work-related issues and value of maternal care. The salience of this issues varied across groups of at-home, part-time and full-time working mothers. The most important consideration for at-home women was the emphasis on caring for their children themselves, as opposed to using familial or formal childcare. Part-time women appeared to be the most satisfied with their work and parenting arrangements, because they could fulfil their roles as wives and mothers, but also benefit from spending autonomy and competence, by engaging in paid work. Full-time women reported greater opportunities in the workplace than part-time women, although they experienced substantial ambivalence about their full-time status. This conflict was ameliorated by the availability of flexible work and when partner's had reduced working hours. Based on the salience of work-related factors reported in Study Two, Study Three explored the degree of consistency between the espoused values evident in organisational work-family policy documentation and women's reported experiences of these policies (N = 24). For example, options such as flexible work arrangements and part-time work appear to promote values related to balance and integration of the work and family spheres. However, interview data suggests women's experiences of part-time work were inconsistent with assumptions about job commitment and career progression. The research extends the current understanding of the range of variables that influence maternal LFP and the processes by which LFP decisions are made. The findings are interpreted in light of a number of existing theoretical perspectives, as well as suggesting a preliminary model of decision-making that could be tested in other groups of women in future studies. The current research may also inform public policy on issues such as childcare and social security allowances and organisational human resource policy in terms of the implementation of work-family options.

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ID Code: 15821
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Young, Ross
Keywords: Maternal labour force participation, motherhood and work, work-family policy, part-time work, flexible work arrangements, espoused values
Department: Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Paula K. McDonald
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:50
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2011 05:02

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