Careers or Babies? What Young Australian Women Want

Melissa Johnstone (2009). Careers or Babies? What Young Australian Women Want PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Melissa Johnstone
Thesis Title Careers or Babies? What Young Australian Women Want
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-07
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Christina Lee
A/Prof Nancy Pachana
Total pages 777
Total black and white pages 777
Subjects 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences
Abstract/Summary Abstract The majority of young Australian women aspire to be married with at least one child and in some form of paid employment by the time they are 35 years of age. In an age of increasing female labour force participation, it seems then that young women really can have it all. However, while younger generations of women are now more likely than their male counterparts to go to university, Australian women, compared to women in other countries, have low workforce participation rates after childbearing; and many move to part-time positions characterised by lower earnings, less responsibility and less opportunity for training and promotion. Further, there continues to be significant occupational segregation in the workplace, and women continue to earn significantly less than men. Why are Australian women not utilizing their skills to their full potential? The issue of balancing paid work with family responsibilities is central to this debate; and crucial is the role of Australian work-family legislation, which has previously focussed on improving Australia’s low fertility rate through financial aids rather than recognising women’s increased attachment to the paid workforce. This underscores the need for further research on how young Australian women negotiate work and family, to contribute to the evidence base for the formation of policy that supports the needs of young Australian women. This thesis takes an innovative approach of examining the work and family aspirations of a new generation of young Australian women negotiating work and family, transitioning from their late teens/early twenties to their early 30s. A prominent theoretical model of women’s work and family preferences, Lifestyle Preference Theory, postulates that women’s work and family outcomes are primarily the result of what they had always aspired, and that all women living in contemporary society can ‘choose’ their preferred type of lifestyle. However, as argued in this thesis, this model doesn’t take into account women’s circumstances, systemic-level supports and life changes that impact upon women’s decisions. Further, compared to previous generations of women, when most of the research on women’s aspirations was conducted, there is a new development process bridging adolescence and early adulthood, termed Emerging Adulthood. Using a mixed-methods approach of quantitative and qualitative analyses, this thesis examines young Australian women’s work and family aspirations according to their life experiences and within the social and structural constraints on their lives, during this developmental period of the life course and new socio-historical context. Chapter 1 provides a historical context to women’s changing roles and increasing workforce participation over past decades, while also discussing the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes and gender differences in the workforce. Chapter 2 discusses the Australian context in more depth; including work and family trends and systemic-level work-family support. This section also introduces theoretical contributions in the area of women’s aspirations, and developmental changes likely to affect young women. Chapter 3 then provides an analysis of young Australian women’s work and family aspirations, including the consistency of their aspirations over time, using nationally representative data from the younger cohort of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH). Chapters 4 and 5 examine the representativeness of Lifestyle Preference Theory as a model of young Australian women’s work and family aspirations. Chapter 4 investigates whether Australian women can be categorised as ‘types’ committed to pursuing a particular lifestyle while Chapter 5 investigates whether women’s aspirations are independent of context, as theorised by Lifestyle Preference Theory, or correlated to women’s circumstances and the constraints on their lives. Chapters 6 and 7 aim to give voices to the experiences of young Australian women forming their aspirations during this period of the lifespan, by analysing qualitative comments from the younger cohort of the ALSWH. Chapter 6 provides a context of what is important and happening in the lives of young Australian women, while Chapter 7 provides a more thorough discussion of women’s comments about their aspirations and with a comparative discussion of their comments to current theoretical models. Through an analysis of focus group material, Chapter 8 continues to examine the experiences of young women during this developmental period of the lifespan. This Chapter reviews young women’s thoughts on their aspirations for work and family, how they anticipate making work and family decisions, and how they perceive and experience this developmental period of the lifespan. Chapters 9 and 10 return to the quantitative data of the ALSWH to investigate why women change their aspirations over time, and specifically look at the impact of first birth and life events on women’s motherhood and employment aspirations. These Chapters discuss the role of systemic-level work-family support on women’s changing aspirations. Chapter 11 provides an integrative conclusion of findings, which show that women are forming and adjusting their aspirations as best they can within their circumstances and the constraints on their lives, and the broader context of Australia’s work and family support systems. This Chapter provides recommendations for policy and directions for future research.
Keyword Aspirations
young Australian women
Lifestyle Preference Theory
Emerging Adulthood
Additional Notes Landscape Pages: 118 293-294 376-381 412-417 639-642

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Created: Wed, 17 Mar 2010, 12:44:08 EST by Miss Melissa Johnstone on behalf of Library - Information Access Service