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FAQs - The Most Frequently Asked Questions


An Unexpected Tragedy: Evidence for the connection between working patterns and family breakdown in Australia

1. Has the incidence of Australians working long hours per week fallen since 2000?
2. Aren't many of the long-hours workers self-employed and therefore more likely to fall outside the scope of regulation?
3. Aren't most long hours-workers happy with their situation? Do they really want to work less?
4. Aren't many of the jobs held by people working long hours attractive?
5. Does it matter if long-hours workers are single or childless?
6. Have long working hours, working at atypical times and with unpredictable schedules been proven to cause dysfunctional relationships?
7. Haven't average annual hours worked been declining over the last three decades?
8. Hasn't the incidence of casual work in Australia remained essentially stable at mid-90s levels?
9. Is Relationships Forum Australia recommending the introduction of regulatory policies aimed at limiting the number of hours people can work?


1. Has the incidence of Australian's working long hours per week fallen since 2000?

  • The proportion of Australian employees working long hours has fallen slightly since 2000 after a sustained rise over the previous 14 years. Our report shows this trend (see Main Report page 23 and Appendix Exhibit 16).
  • We use the year 2000 as a basis for comparison because of the availability of similarly defined international statistics on the proportion of employees working 50 hours or more.
  • Using publicly available ABS data:
    • The proportion of the total workforce working 50 hours or more fell by 1.4 percentage points from 2000 to 2005 (from 18.5% to 17.1%) after increasing from a base of 13.0% in 1978.
    • The proportion of the total workforce working 45 hours or more fell by 1.5 percentage points from 2000 to 2005 (from 26.4% to 24.9%) after increasing from a base of 19.8% in 1978.
  • The recent marginal fall in the proportion of the workforce working long hours is unlikely to have dislodged Australia from its position near the top of international comparisons.
  • The actual number of Australians working long hours (45+ and 50+ hours per week) has continued to grow.


2. Aren't many of the long-hours workers self-employed and therefore more likely to fall outside the scope of regulation?

  • The vast majority of long-hours workers are employees. ABS data indicates that in 2005, 78% of those working 50 or more hours were employees, 14% own account workers and 8% employers.
  • Some policy options could protect all workers, including the self-employed, from onerous work demands.


3. Aren't most long-hours workers happy with their situation? Do they really want to work less?

  • Several different surveys show that the majority of long-hours workers have a preference for working less hours:
    • The ABS Working Arrangements Survey (2003) reported that 59% of full-time employees working 50+ hours would prefer fewer hours.
    • The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (2003) indicates that 68% of employees believe that too many people are working long hours in Australia today (Appendix Exhibit 90)
    • The same survey shows that 50% of employees believe that long working hours are an individual's choice (Appendix Exhibit 91). However, 45% of employees whose employer expects long hours do not have a choice about working those long hours (Slide 93).
    • The HILDA survey (2001) shows that 52% of the workforce (not just employees) working 45+ hours would prefer to work fewer hours (Appendix Exhibit 100) and 59% of those working 50+ hours would prefer fewer (Appendix Exhibit 99).


4. Aren't many of the jobs held by people working long hours attractive?

  • We highlight on page 25 of the report (and Appendix Exhibits 30 to 32) that many long-hours workers are in (what may be considered to be) attractive occupations (56% of long hours workers are managers, administrators, professionals and associate professionals). However, as mentioned above, many long-hours workers do not have a choice about the hours they work.
  • Workers in these 'attractive' occupations are likely to be negatively affected by unpredictable work schedules and job intensification.
  • Hitherto, many of those working long hours may have been unaware of the link between their working patterns and relational breakdown.


5. Does it matter if long-hours workers are single or childless?

  • The negative effects of working long hours, at atypical times and with unpredictable schedules are experienced by married parents, couples without children and singles alike, although the pressures are likely to be felt most acutely by working parents.
  • Slide 74 shows, not only that relationships are falling apart, but that many more people have never been married than at any time over the last 30 years. While staying single may be an individual's choice, slides 79 and 80 show that on average those living alone report lower personal wellbeing, with the main difference coming from their satisfaction with their relationships.


6. Have long working hours, working at atypical times and with unpredictable schedules been proven to cause dysfunctional relationships?

  • In the preface to the report we explain that most research attempting to show a link between changing working patterns and family/child wellbeing has demonstrated correlation, without showing causality.
  • As indicated on page 30 of the report (and Appendix Exhibit 67), not all research identifies this link. However, the weight of available evidence has led the authors to conclude that there is a strong link between working long hours, atypical times and unpredictable schedules, and relational dysfunction.
  • Mixed findings are not unusual given differences in research methodologies, including the definition of long and atypical hours, outcomes measured, the nature of any moderating or mediating factors, and the different contexts in which the studies took place.
  • An example of research that did not find a direct link between long hours and family well-being was conducted by the AIFS using the HILDA survey (Weston, Gray, Qu & Stanton (2004), Long work hours and the wellbeing of fathers and their families, AIFS Research Paper 35). Even so, the study found that family wellbeing was affected by workers' satisfaction with their work hours. It also found that 39-45% of those working 50 hours or more were dissatisfied with their work hours.
  • In contrast, earlier research from the AIFS using the Australian Life Course Survey does show that long work hours increase time stress, which together with financial stress, negatively affects relationship wellbeing and life satisfaction (Weston, Qu & Soriano (2002), Implications of men's extended work hours for their personal and marital happiness, Family Matters 61, AIFS. Australian Life Course Survey).


7. Haven't average annual hours worked been declining over the last three decades?

  • In the course of our research we investigated all available measures of working patterns. Average annual working hours were found to be misleading because they provide no understanding of the underlying distribution of working hours. For example, we know that this indicator masks the mix of full- and part-time workers, which is particularly significant in Australia given our high proportion of casual workers.
  • Average annual hours have indeed fallen from 1,904 in 1979 to 1,811 in 2005. However, Appendix Exhibit 16 shows that there has been a divergence away from the mean for Australian workers. The proportion of those working a 'standard' 35-44 hours has shrunk considerably, while the proportions working long or part-time (casual) have grown significantly. This bifurcation means that looking at a simple average figure masks important detail. An analogy would be to analyse the weather over two weeks, where the first week was marked by continuous 40C days and the second week by freezing temperatures and then to report that the average temperature had been a mild 20C.
  • International comparisons of average annual hours worked are published by the OECD. However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics warns, "There are large differences in data sources and methods used by each of these countries and because of this, the OECD clearly states that these estimates are only suitable for intra-country comparisons over time and are not suitable for inter-country comparisons." ABS (2006), Estimating Average Annual Hours Worked 1352.0.
  • It can be noted that, in comparison with other high-income countries, Australia's reduction in average annual hours between 1979 and 2005 is the fourth smallest (after Sweden, USA and Portugal).


8. Hasn't the incidence of casual work in Australia remained essentially stable at mid-90s levels?

  • Appendix Exhibits 24 and 25 show that the proportion, and especially the number, of casual (and temporary) workers have increased throughout the period.


9. Is Relationships Forum Australia recommending the introduction of regulatory policies aimed at limiting the number of hours people can work?

  • We make no specific recommendations in our report for changes in working laws, merely advancing a range of policy options for further assessment. The chief purpose of this study was to carefully analyse the situation, and provide the Australian public with a set of incontrovertible facts upon which to view our present work-life predicament.
  • We have recommended that policymakers gain access to the necessary tools an integrated set of key performance indicators and practical policy options to be able to redress the current work-life imbalance.