Work and family

Program Lead: Associate Professor Amanda Cooklin

This program of work aims to understand the role that parents' jobs and employment conditions have on parenting, parent-child relationships and family health and wellbeing. Most parents – mothers and fathers – engage in paid work in Australia, so workplaces are a vital platform for policy and workplace interventions to support parents and families.

We are particularly interested in understanding the gendered nature of work and wellbeing across all stages of parenting. We work with key academic and government partners to identify risk and protective factors in parents' jobs, and to identify ways that workplaces can implement and support equitable access to 'family-friendly' work for men and women both.

Families at work and families at work during COVID-19

The Families at Work study (2016-2017) was focussed on understanding the job conditions linked to optimal health and wellbeing for parents (with children aged 0-18 yrs), including lower work-family conflicts, job stress and burnout.

Given the overarching changes to jobs, work, childcare and education in 2020, we invited the same sample to participate in a brief, 6-month prospective study across the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research aims of Families at Work during COVID-19 are to: establish what workplace supports remained critical for parents, what new risks to parents’ health and family wellbeing might be emerging and how these are patterned by gender, socio-economic status and job type.

Research team:  Stacey Hokke, Sharinne Crawford, Shannon Bennetts, Jan Nicholson, Simon Mason, Jasmine Love, Jodi Oakman; in collaboration with Liana Leach and Lyndall Strazdins, Australian National University.

This project received funding from Australian Research Council

Fathers at work

Identifying workplace barriers and supports for fathers to combine work and care

Gender inequities in work and care persist and have likely been exacerbated by the “she-cession” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence suggests that fathers’ unpaid care work has increased slightly due to the pandemic – but so has mothers’, and all parents remain constrained by gendered notions of ‘who works and who cares’.

This project aims to explore Australian fathers’ work-family experiences to investigate how workplaces have (or have not) supported fathers to combine work and care, before, during and since the pandemic. We use a qualitative phenomenological study design; data are collected using in-depth semi-structured interviews with fathers of child(ren) aged 0–18 years, employed in an organisation.

Our research will provide critical insight into how organisations can enable fathers to combine work and family, to provide parents of all genders with more equal opportunities to engage in work and care-giving roles.

Research team: Stacey Hokke, Sharinne Crawford, Shannon Bennetts, Jasmine Love, Jan Nicholson, Amanda Cooklin; in collaboration with Liana Leach, The Australian National University

Funding for this study was provided by La Trobe's Transforming Human Societies Research Focus Area Grant Ready Scheme.

Work family balance, parenting and family wellbeing

Identifying the adverse effects of poor-quality jobs and work-family conflict on parents and children

This ongoing, collaborative program of research uses available national, longitudinal and cohort data to identify the adverse effects of poor-quality jobs, work-family conflict, and time pressure on families across the life-course.

In 2022, we published four papers. The first investigated the links between time pressure and mental and physical health for recent mothers (child age <5 yrs) participating in the Millennium Mums survey. A second paper used prospective data collected from employees working at home to explore work-family conflict and health. Two further papers used data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, one investigating work-study conflicts and mental health associations for employed (secondary and tertiary) students; and one explored the link between exposure to early-life inter-parental conflict and later socio-emotional development for children.

The study uses data from over 5,000 employed parents and their children (Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, collected since 2004).

Research team: Amanda Cooklin, Jan Nicholson; in collaboration with Liana Leach, Lyndall Strazdins, Yixuan Zhao, Tianying Wang, Australian National University; Belinda Hewitt, University of Melbourne; Mara Yerkes, Utrecht University, The Netherlands; Rebecca Giallo, Deakin University

Funding for this study was provided by the Australian Research Council (A Cooklin Future Fellowship FT200100209)

Gender stereotypes and support for managers

Exploring if gender and parent status matter in ‘upwards support’ for managers at work.

This project aims to investigate whether stereotypes about ‘working mothers’ influence the support managers receive from their staff in the workplace. Based on gender role theory, we hypothesize that asking for support may serve as a penalty for mothers but not for men and fathers in supervisory roles.

This project is a collaboration between researchers in Germany, Singapore, Norway and Australia.

Research team: Amanda Cooklin; in collaboration with Nina Junker, Goethe University, Frankfurt; Wendy Nilsen, Oslo Metropolitan University; Eunae Cho, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

The great disruption of COVID-19: Re-imagining the work-family interface

This project aims to highlight new possibilities to  reduce parents’ work-family conflicts. Covid-19 brought an unprecedented disruption to Australian parents' work-care routines, with different effects for women, and those working ‘at work’ versus at home. Using mixed-methods approaches and multiple Australian datasets collected pre- and post-pandemic, this unique project intends to identify families who are at risk of longer-term scarring to family wellbeing from work-care conflicts; and critical workplace supports which may prevent this. Together, this urgently-needed evidence contributes to family-friendly work for diverse parents, employers and policy, protecting social and economic participation for Australian parents.

Research Team: Amanda Cooklin, Liana Leach (ANU), Stacey Hokke, Jodi Oakman (La Trobe) Rebecca Giallo (Deakin) and Jan Nicholson

This program received funding from the Australian Research Council, 2023-2025

FLEX-IT: A mixed method study of information technology (IT) use in everyday life

This project is an international collaboration and aims to investigate whether stereotypes about ‘working mothers’ influence the support managers receive from their staff in the workplace.  Based on gender role theory, we hypothesize that asking for practical support at work may serve as a penalty for women and mothers, but not for men and fathers, in supervisory roles. It is a collaboration between researchers in Germany, Singapore, Norway and Australia, with data collected in each setting to yield cross-national comparisons. In 2022, we completed further fieldwork in Germany and Norway to add to the original sample (collected in 2020) and analyses are underway.

Research team:  Amanda Cooklin; in collaboration with Nina Junker and Wendy Nilsen, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway; Eunae Cho, Taipei Medical University, Taiwan

Status: Findings in preparation

The 'long arm' of the job: Improving parents' jobs and child development

This project aims to identify the priority job stressors that impact working families' wellbeing and child development, and to generate innovative job-based strategies to reduce work-family conflicts for working parents. Conflicts between work and family are common in Australia, reported by one in three parents. These affect productivity, family relationships and ultimately, child development. Evidence reveals that employers have struggled to implement family-friendly practices despite recent national policy initiatives. Using national cohort data and industry partnerships, this project investigates solutions to this urgent national dilemma to benefit those most affected by parents' job stressors – working parents and their children.

Researcher:  Amanda Cooklin

This project was funded by ARC Future Fellowship 2021-2025