University of Tasmania
whole_WalterMaggie2003_thesis.pdf (14.34 MB)

Working their way out of poverty? : Australian sole mothers, labour market participation and welfare reform

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posted on 2023-05-27, 14:19 authored by Walter, MM
Over the last 30 years, the social policy discourse surrounding Australian sole mothers' relationship to the labour market has altered dramatically. Policy has swung from supporting sole mothers to stay home to rear children to, now, obligating market activity once a child reaches school age. These policy shifts have been fuelled by social, demographic changes, plus, more latterly, changes in political ideology around the nature and purpose of the welfare state. Moves to overhaul the Australian welfare system coincide with the rising influence of neo-liberalist ideologies across social and family policy prescriptions. Under welfare reform, income support reliance is cast as welfare dependency and addressed by applying mutual obligation principles to sole parents. Policy rationales centre on negative comparisons of the workforce activity of sole m,others with that of married mothers. Simultaneously, family policy is creating direct disincentives for partnered mothers to return to the workforce. The juxtaposition of these competing policy directions creates a conflict in the ideological positioning of sole and married mothers within a market economy. The central question of this thesis emerges from this policy dichotomy, and asks: is sole mothers' relationship to the labour market different from that of married mothers? Using data from the Negotiating the Lifecourse Survey (NLC) 1996/97, the thesis comparatively examines sole and married mother respondents (N = 585) across three labour market dimensions. The ideological dimension compares the mothers' attitudes towards the compatibility of mothering and market work; the practical dimension examines the sole and married mothers' current workforce status and reasons for this level of market activity; and the financial dimension explores the comparative impact of mothers' occupational and partnered status on household material well-being. The results indicate that for sole and married mothers, the pathway to labour market activity is the same and intimately connected to the mothering role. Yet within this core similarity, the results also suggest that sole mothers' relationship with the labour market is more complex, with the soleness of sole motherhood emerging as a significant explanatory factor in all three comparative analysis. The thesis concludes that despite motherhood being the defining feature of each group's labour market relationship, the environment in which sole and married mothers negotiate their labour market determinations differs. To illustrate this vital difference in the personal, social, and political reality of sole motherhood, within the core of motherhood similarity, a Domain of Motherhood Model is developed. The model's two panels emphasise the essential similarity in sole and married mothers' relationship with the labour market while also demonstrating that each dimension of the sole mothe!s' labour market relationship - the ideological, the practical and the financial - is, itself, enveloped within the lived experience of being a sole mother in the Australian 'liberal' welfare state. Finally, a range of policy alternatives is explored and the likely directfon of future welfare reform on sole mothers' . relationship with the labour market is canvassed.


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Copyright 2003 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2003. Includes bibliographical references

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