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‘Extraordinarily hard’: Sharp rise in parents of young children working full-time

It’s a juggling act Elle Green and Brent Winstone from Marrickville, parents to Louis, 3, know well. Ms Green, 42, works full time in marketing, while Mr Winstone, 40, works full time as a commercial photographer.

“It’s extraordinarily hard,” Ms Green said. “There is a lot of diary management trying to be organised about who’s doing pick-ups and drop-offs. We have no extended family here because I’m from the UK and Brent is from New Zealand so we both have to step up.”

Both Ms Green and Mr Winstone say they care about their careers and derive personal fulfilment from work but the financial burden of paying a Sydney mortgage was the main reason why they both work full time rather than part time.

Brent Winstone and Elle Green, parents of Louis, are part of a growing cohort of Sydneysiders where both parents work full time and have children under the age of five.

Brent Winstone and Elle Green, parents of Louis, are part of a growing cohort of Sydneysiders where both parents work full time and have children under the age of five. Credit:Lyndal Irons

“We could choose to move further away but then we’d have a longer commute and that starts to get challenging with drop-offs,” Mr Winstone said. Their priority was to stay close to their community of friends but the choice to stay in Sydney meant a second child was unlikely.

The top three regions where Sydneysiders are juggling two full-time jobs and parenting children under the age of five are Ryde, Baulkham Hills and Hawkesbury, and Outer West and the Blue Mountains. Children under the age of 15 in North Sydney and Hornsby are also among the most likely to have both parents working.

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Full-time work becomes even more common once children reach school age. In Sydney, the proportion of couple families with at least one child under the age of 15 where both parents work full time climbed from 24 per cent in 2009 to 30 per cent in 2019 in Sydney. Across Australia there was a similar rise, from 21 per cent to 27 per cent.

Meanwhile, the proportion of families where one parent works full time and the other parent works part time remained broadly steady across Australia over the decade, while the number of jobless families fell.

Single parents were also more likely to work full time than a decade ago. Across Australia, a third of sole parents with at least one child under the age of 15 worked full time, compared with a quarter in 2009.

Parents at Work chief executive Emma Walsh said the trend was partly economic and partly a result of structural encouragement for women to work.

“There’s no question that financially, especially those parents living in major cities where childcare is expensive and mortgages are expensive, that we’re no longer living in an era where many parents can afford to have someone staying at home and the other person doing all the earning,” Ms Walsh said.

“Workplaces have also made it easier, there is more flexibility these days so it’s not uncommon for people to go back full time but work four days and work flexibly on the fifth day.”

Ms Green found her corporate marketing job too rigid when she returned from maternity leave so she looked for more flexible work and ended up as head of marketing at FlexCareers, a consultancy and job matching service. She works two days a week from home to lessen the hours Louis spends in childcare.

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