Olivia Wilson and her husband are out of pocket just under $400 each week to pay for the care of their two children.
The juggle of getting out of the house each morning relies heavily on the assistance of ABC4Kids but Olivia knows that in world of sales, a career path she chose long before her babies arrived, that connections and networking are paramount. “If I stepped away I’d be living in a bubble, I’d already lost so many contacts just being on maternity leave that if I stayed away any longer it would have been hard to step back in again.”
She found that after returning to work when her youngest was six months old that the majority of her pay went straight to daycare, but she couldn’t work out a way to stay in the workforce and have anything resembling extra cash in her pocket while the children were little.
For some women, going to work is simply not worth it given the investment in childcare required.
When a couple moves from having one child to two their financial situation takes a serious hit: with the first child a typical family loses half of its second wage to day care, whereas when a second child arrives, that drops to taking home just 20 cents from each dollar earned, according to the Grattan Institute’s report, Economic reform priorities of Australia.
But are finances the only constraint of having a second child?
Karen Charlton found that her working life changed after the birth of her second son. She stepped away from her position at Monash University not because her role wasn’t satisfying but because she couldn’t justify the commute, the childcare fees and the impact on the lives of everyone in her family. Including herself.
“It was a quality of life issue for me, and I didn’t see that a few years out of the workforce would drastically affect my ability to get back into the workforce because I had such a strong start to my career at that point,” she says. Juggling a toddler who constantly picked up bugs from daycare as well as a new baby allowed her to be more resolute in the decision to step away. “I still wanted a career, but it had to be something where I could be available to my children and it had to something that I was passionate about,” she explains. Five years on, and with a third son, Charlton found that the “writing” she did in her head as she looked after her boys manifested itself into “real” writing. She is now paid to write and finds that filling her “career gap” is meaningful and satisfying.
The Grattan report highlights that the capacity to bring home a portion of your pay changes once a family moves from needing childcare for one child to two. This creates a barrier to more women in the workforce. The report recommends clear policy changes to address the balance.
Engaging families in conversation about the role of workforce participation after children arrive highlights that finances are important but it is not the only factor that impacts on a family’s decision to stay in or out of the workforce. Wilson agrees. “I actually had some money when I had one child. I was thinking why bother with my second but my career is as much my identity as being a mum is, so I do both.”
Did your career shift when you went from one child to two?