What do Australians think? Part 1- looking after the kids

Media, MPs, marketers and assorted other pundits are constantly telling us about what Australians think.


They puzzle over data and find significance in a 1% or 2 % shift in a survey in a way which would have statisticians shaking their heads.


Yet there is a source which would help clear the fog and replace it with some robust data.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA) is one such significant source and aims to survey a representative sample of adult Australians.


It uses a random sample of 5000 respondents from the Australian Electoral Roll which means every Australian citizen has an equal chance of having their views included in the survey.


The next survey will be undertaken in May 2024 and will cover topics such as immigration, being ‘Australian’, patriotism, political participation, media use and trust in government. Results should be interesting for those thinking about what to do and say for the 2025 Federal election – although that may be asking a bit much of our politicians and their advisors.


The most recent AuSSA survey covered Family and Changing Gender Roles – the fifth time this was a topic in the survey having previously been investigated in 1988, 1994, 2002 and 2012. It doesn’t specify percentages but the raw numbers are presented in a graphic table form from which it is easy to identify attitudes.


The very first question in the survey was to ask the extent to which respondents agreed or disagreed with the proposition that a working mother can establish just as warm and secure relationship with her children as a mother who does not work?


Strongly agree and agree responses dominated with disagree or strongly disagreeing being much fewer.


When it came to doing the laundry, the split was even between one person, both people in the household with a small few of third people doing it – perhaps the kids.


Most commonly households equally participate in planning and organising social and family activities; household cleaning; laundry; and, preparing meals.


Respondents overwhelmingly disagree with the propositions that pre-school children are likely to suffer if their mother works; that family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job; that a job is all right but what most women really want it a home and children.


There is massive disagreement with the proposition that a job is all right but what most women really want is a home and children although neither agree or disagree leads responses to the question of whether being a housewife is just as fulfilling as working for pay.


As for the contention that it’s a man’s job to earn money while a woman’s job is look after the family and the home the strongly disagree responses is not quite off the scale. Ditto for the question about whether women and men should share the responsibility for the home and the family.

A large majority agree that mothers and fathers are equally suited to looking after children although support for women working full time when there is a child under school age is low but part time work for women in such situations wins much greater support. Women working full time after the youngest child starts school is low with strong approval for part time work.


A significant section of the sample said they couldn’t choose on the child under school age situation reflecting that this is a difficult decision for families.


The concept that having children increases people’s social standing in society gets some agreement but much more disagreement. Conservatives would be horrified to discover that a big majority disagree or strongly disagree with the idea that people who want children ought to get married. Needless to say, the same results apply to the question as to whether a couple should live together without intending to get married.


People also more likely to agree that a single mother can bring up her child as well as a married couple and the same applies to whether a male can successfully bring up a child as well as a married couple.


Australians also don’t seem to be fussed about same sex female couples and same sex male couples and believe both can bring up a child as well as a male-female couple. Much of the LNP parliamentary members would be having conniptions about this or clinging to their pearls if there were enough female Liberals in their ranks to do so.


The next question in the survey relates to a world long gone by asking who should provide financially for the family with a mother and father raising a five year old there are a few nominating Dad but most seem to believe it is both.


This support for shared responsibility also ranges over providing for the family financially; taking care of a child on a daily basis; playing with or taking part in a child’s leisure activities; listening to a child’s problems and advising on them; and providing a role model.


While a massive majority of respondents are in favour of paid leave for someone who stops work to care for their children family members are strongly supported as the people who should provide childcare for children under school age – thus the number of grandparents you see around your suburb pushing prams and/or swings as well as queuing up in cinemas to see the latest kid’s hot film.


This phenomenon also explains the persistence of DVDs and DVD players which can screen tried and true children’s classics more extensively than Netflix and others.


Respondents are equally divided on whether the family or the government should cover the costs of childcare.