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Australian Institute of Family Studies

' Early research on 'work-family' issues

Don Edgar


I was pleased to learn recently (2019) that RMIT has established a Centre for People, Organisation & Work, with an active Work & Family Policy Roundtable comprising 32 experts from 17 Australian universities. My ignorance of this group prompted me to wonder what issues today come under that heading. There seems to be a strong focus on women's work (reflecting the all-female composition of the Roundtable), particularly aged care and child care workers and equal pay, and papers addressing political party approaches at election times.

As a matter of record, and to compare how the focus has shifted, I list below some of the research and policy papers on 'work & family' issues produced in its first decade by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, of which I was the foundation Director (1980-1993). That work has, of course, been carried on as a major focus of AIFS research since that time, but it is often forgotten that a groundwork was laid by the Institute's early reports for many of the reforms to working conditions for women and the concept of a work-family life balance that we now take for granted.


Prior to AIFS

Edgar, D. (1976), Adolescent competence and sexual disadvantage, La Trobe Working Papers in Sociology, No. 10

Victorian Committee on the Status of Women, Report to the Premier , August, 1976 - Members: Dr Eva Eden (Chair), Kingsley Adam (Chamber of Commerce), Jean Baker (Heidelberg City Councillor), Rosemary Balmford (Solicitor), Molly Brennan (Principal, Castlemaine High School), William Donohoe (Department of Labour & Industry), Dr Donald Edgar (Latrobe University), Eve Mahlab (Solicitor), Peter Nolan (Victorian Trades Hall Council), Anne Clough (Victorian Trades Hall Council), Alan Pead (President, Industrial Training Commission of Victoria), Eda Ots (Personal Assistant to the Minister of Health)

Edgar, D. (1980), Possible directions for an Australian family policy, AIFS Discussion Paper No. 1, Melbourne

Edgar, D. (1980), Introduction to Australian Society: A Sociological Perspective, Prentice-Hall, Chapter 9, 'Work and life concerns', pp.207-250

The Edgar Report (1987), Focus on Adults: Towards a Productive Learning Culture, Ministry of Education, Victoria


AIFS work-family studies

From the outset, the Institute's Board approved my 7-Year Research Plan (1980) to carry out major longitudinal studies on Australian family life.

An early focus was the work-family nexus and I invited renowned British sociologists Rhona and Robert Rapoport to spend a few weeks visiting the Institute to advise us on designing our first major studies. Their personal example of shared part-time work was a model for their influential 1965 article in the American Sociological Review on 'Work and family in contemporary society', and their 1971 book Dual Career Families consolidated their position as leaders in the field. Rhona worked for many years with the London Institute for Family & Environmental Research and they later (1982) challenged current theory in their book Beyond Work-Family Balance. Our young staff at the AIFS benefited greatly from their short consultancy with us.

The Institute's first major longitudinal study - the Family Formation Study (with a sample of over 2000 families across Australia) - was aimed at documenting in detail the variety of family types and changes over time in the way Australian families formed and operated. In those years, the Australian Census and other ABS data sets did not differentiate between first and subsequent marriages, re-partnering, divorce and the status of children post-divorce, stepchildren in the household, caring for elderly parents, changes in workforce status of men and women, or the nature of stages in the family life cycle.

Our parallel longitudinal study - the Family Re-formation Study - was designed to establish the facts of divorce trends following the new Family Law Act 1976, and follow a large sample of divorcing couples over time, tracking custody of and access to children, maintenance and family support payments, and re-partnering.

The first wave of both these studies showed clearly how much families were changing, in particular how the increasing workforce participation of women was affecting marital life, with employers still discriminating against women, and disadvantaging many women post-divorce because of their insecure attachment to the workforce and the failure of many men to pay maintenance for their children.

This led us to design further studies on child care, maternity leave, housing and homelessness, community support services, infertility, early childhood education, youth and ageing.

The so-called 'work-family balance' was thus a major focus of the Institute's work from the start.


AIFS Reports and papers on work-family issues: (up to 1991)

Rapoport, R. & R. Rapoport (1980), Work and the Family, Discussion Paper No. 3, AIFS

'Families and Work' (1980), AIFS Family Information Bulletin

Lovering, K. (1980), 'Employment of Women', Biennial Conference of Business and Professional Women, Burnie, Tasmania

Lovering, K. (1980), 'Employment of women in the public service', Women in Management Conference, Melbourne

Rapoport, R. & R. Rapoport (1981), 'Dual Career families', AIFS

Lovering, K. (1981), 'Indirect taxation in more ways than one', Women and Taxation Seminar, United Nations Association of Australia

D'Abbs, Peter (1982), Social Support Networks: A critical review of models and findings, AIFS Monograph No. 1, Melbourne

Brennan, D. (1983), Towards a national child care policy, AIFS Policy Background Paper 2

Brewer, G. (1983), The impact of work on family functioning: a review of the literature, AIFS Occasional Paper No. 3

Burke, T.L., L. Hancock & P. Newton (1984), A Roof Over Their Heads; Housing Issues and Families in Australia, AIFS Monograph No. 4

Kilmartin, C. & M. Wulff (1984), 'Educational and labour force participation of Australian young people living in two- and one-parent families', Australian Population Association Journal, Vol. 1, Spring

Kilmartin, C. (1985), 'Women's work and family unemployment', AIFS Newsletter, No. 14

AIFS Submissions to EPAC (1985), Families and Australia's Economic Future (March), and Changing the Australian Taxation system: towards a family income guarantee (May)

Edgar, D. (1985), 'The changing role of women and the poverty of our children', address to the National Council of Women, Melbourne

Day, A.T. (1985), We can manage: Expectations about care and variations of family support among people 75 years and over, AIFS Monograph No. 5

Funder, K. (1985), 'Paid and unpaid work: division of labour during marriage and consequences following marriage breakdown', ANZAAS Festival of Science Conference

McDonald, P. (1985), 'Women's work and family unemployment', AIFS Newsletter, No. 14

Edgar, D. (1986), 'The family in between: the hidden factor in employer/employee relations', Business Council of Australia Conference, Sydney

Edgar, D. (1987), 'Work and family functioning', Australian Fabian Society Conference, 'Sharing the load: Helping workers with family responsibilities', Lorne

Edgar, D. (1987), 'The family in between: the hidden factor in employer/employee relationships', Business Council of Australia Journal, Vol. 30, January

Edgar, D. (1988), 'Women and the Economy', 2nd National Liberal Women's Conference, Melbourne

Edgar, D. (1988), 'Absenteeism and the family', Family Matters, No. 20

Edgar, D. (1988), 'Corporate responses to workers with families', Family Matters, No. 22

Burbidge, Andrew (1988), Low Income Working Families, AIFS Report to the Brotherhood of St Laurence

Brownlee, Helen (1989), 'Working wives' contribution to family earnings', Family Matters No. 24

Edgar, D. (1989), 'The role of the father', MAA National Conference, Melbourne

Edgar, D. (1989), Impact of family and social issues on employee relations', Victorian? Employers' Federation Conference, Melbourne

'AIFS Response paper on funding options for child care', (December, 1989), Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia National Conference, Melbourne

Beggs, J. & B. Chapman (1989), 'Foregone earnings from child-rearing', Family Matters, No. 21

Edgar, D. (1990), 'Family work and family stress', NSW Parliament, Sydney

Ochiltree, G. (1990), 'Mothers in the workforce: coping with young, sick children', Family Matters, No. 28

Edgar, D. (1990), 'Work system rigidity damages positive family change', Seminar of the New Zealand Office of the Commissioner for Children, Wellington

Glezer, H. (1990), 'Fathers are parents too: parental leave In Australia', Family Matters, No. 28

Weston, R. (1990), 'Work and stress: can a sense of control help?', Family Matters, No. 28

AIFS (1991), Work and Family: An Important Business, Melbourne

Edgar, D. (1991), 'Work and family - an important business', WA Department of Productivity and Labour Relations Seminar, Perth; and at Marriage Guidance WA launch of PACE WA (Programmes Assisting Companies & Employees), Perth

D'A bbs, P. (1991), Who helps? Support networks and social policy in Australia, AIFS Monograph No. 12

Glezer, H. (1991), 'Juggling work and family commitments', Family Matters, No. 27

Hartley, R. (1991), 'To work or not to work: women, work and family responsibilities', Family Matters, No. 28

Lucchesi, V. (1991), 'Paying for the children: Parent and employer experience of Stage 1 of Australia's Child Support Scheme', AIFS Monograph No. 10

Snyder, G. & R. Merlo (1991), Australian Defence Force 1991Census: Public Report, AIFS

Wolcott, Ilene (1991), Work and Family: Employers' Views, AIFS Monograph No. 11, Melbourne

Edgar, D. (1992), 'The New Links Workplace Project: Trends and Projections', AF R/BCA Corporate Work & Family Awards, Sydney

Edgar, D. & H. Glezer (1992), 'A man's place: Reconstructing family realities', Family Matters, No. 32

Van den Heuvel, Audrey (1993), When Roles Overlap: Workers with family responsibilities, AIFS, Melbourne

Wolcott, I. & H. Glezer (1995), Work and family life: ?Achieving integration, AIFS, Melbourne

Ochiltree,Gay & D. Edgar (1995), Today's Child Care, Tomorrow's Children, AIFS, Melbourne

Glezer, H. & I. Wolcott (2000), 'Conflicting commitments: Working mothers and fathers in Australia', pp. 43-46 in Haas, Hwang & Russell, op.cit.


Don Edgar - Post-AIFS years and the New Links Workplace Project

Since leaving the AIFS (in 1993), I have also published several papers on work-family matters through Monash University's National Key Centre in Industrial Relations, including the book by Katie Spearritt & Don Edgar (1994), The Family-friendly Front . My work in this area was summarised in a more comprehensive book (for that time) titled The War Over Work: The Future of Work and Family (2005), Melbourne University Press. More recently, the issue of mid-life employment, family change and lifelong learning has been discussed in the book PEAK: Reinventing middle age (2018), written by me as co-author with my wife Patricia Edgar.

Edgar, D. (1994), Connecting Family, Workplace and Community Resources, NLW Project Working Paper No. 1, National Key Centre in Industrial Relations, Monash University

Spearritt, Katie & Don Edgar (1994), The Family-friendly Front, National Key Centre in Industrial Relations, Monash University

Edgar, D. (1995), Whose cost, Whose benefit? Measuring the outcomes of work-family change, NLW Project Working Paper No. 3, Monash University Key Centre in Industrial Relations

Edgar, D. (1995), 'Connecting family, workplace and community resources; The New Links Workplace project', Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp.15-25

Edgar, D. (1997), 'Developing the New Links Workplace: The future of family, work and community relationships', Chapter 9 in Dreman, S. (ed.), The Family on the Threshold of the 21st Century, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey, pp. 147-166.

Russell, G., B. Holmes & D. Edgar (1999), Guide to Evaluating Work and Family Strategies, Work & Family Unit, Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business, Canberra

Russell, G. & D. Edgar (2000), 'Organisational change and gender equity', Chapter in Haas, L., P. Hwang, & G. Russell (eds.), Organisational Change and Gender Equity: International Perspectives on Fathers and Mothers at the Workplace, Sage

Edgar, D. (2001), The Patchwork Nation: Re-thinking government, re-building community, Harper Collins

Edgar, D. (2005), The War Over Work: The future of work and family, Melbourne University Press

Edgar, D. (2005), Family Impact Statement: On 'Work Choices', the proposed new Industrial Relations regime, Unions NSW