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

Walter, MM 2003 , 'Working their way out of poverty? : Australian sole mothers, labour market participation and welfare reform', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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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
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.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Walter, MM
Keywords: Poor single mothers, Public welfare
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

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).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2003. Includes bibliographical references

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