Self-employment entrenches traditional gender roles for parents

“The reality is it’s a bit mixed – there are some short-term gains to working conditions, but there may also be an overall net deficit where women are working fewer hours, which has income and career implications over the longer term, and they are generally less satisfied with their work-family balance.”

The researchers used data from the government’s Growing up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children study.

On average for fathers, self-employment led to an extra four hours of work a week and more work commitments that put pressure on family needs. However, fathers experienced fewer instances where family interfered with work and more satisfaction at the balance between work and family.

For mothers, self-employment led to fewer work hours, a drop of almost five hours per week, and more control over their schedules. However, mothers typically found family needs interfered more with their work when they were self-employed and overall found their work less rewarding and enjoyable.

Dr Cooklin said Australian culture held that being a “good dad” meant earning a decent income, while being a “good mum” meant being present for the children. In regular employment this translated to mothers working part-time and fathers working longer hours. Co-researcher Liana Leach said this pattern was “slightly intensified” in self-employment.

Dr Leach, senior research fellow at the Research School of Population Health at the Australian National University, said “self-employed workers embody traditional gender roles on average even more than organisationally employed workers”.

Sydneysider Fiona Fagan started her business Point and Shoot TV making marketing videos for business clients nearly five years ago. At the time her older children were aged seven and four and she also had two-year-old twins.


Ms Fagan and her husband moved back to Australia after living in London and settled in Richmond in the Hawkesbury region because of Sydney property prices. The trade-off was a long commute.

She lost her job as a television producer when the twins were babies and spent a year working in marketing for another company before hitting on her business idea. Ms Fagan said she works fewer hours in her business but her career satisfaction is high because she loves the work, her business is growing and she learned new skills in her 40s to do it.

However, the shift reinforced traditional gender roles in her relationship with her husband. The couple had similar incomes in their 20s, but now her husband is the main breadwinner and she has to fit around his hours and work trips.

“It used to be a source of tension but we’ve become better as parents and better communicators and we’re in a good rhythm now,” Ms Fagan said. “There’s definitely mutual respect now between us but that has taken some time to develop.”

Ms Fagan said she could use more after-school care services but needed to overcome her guilt and fear of social judgment for “outsourcing her children” when she didn’t have a boss demanding her presence in the office.

Piers Mossuto (right) lost his job in education management in September and joined his wife Kayla in their reusable coffee pod business, Crema Joe. This has meant better work-family balance for the couple, who are parents to Ned, 4.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Piers Mossuto from Mitcham in Melbourne lost his job in education management in September at the height of the lockdown, and joined his wife full time in their family business, a reusable coffee pod company, Crema Joe, based just four minutes from home.

Mr Mossuto said he had found it hard to manage a full-time job, parenting their four-year-old son and helping with the business in the evenings. He dropped to part time earlier in the year, but it didn’t work out.

He was finding better balance in his life in self-employment.

“We’re always going to pick up the phone or answer an email after hours but we don’t have to squeeze as much into the day, which has been really good,” Mr Mossuto said.

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