For our report 'Making Australia the best place in the world' we closely cooperated with Angela Jackson and Rowena O'Neill. Angela and Rowena are leading economists and both work for Equity Economics, an Australian based economic consultancy committed to providing quality economic analysis and policy advice. We asked them a few questions about working on the report and why they were interested in pursuing this research.
What was the biggest challenge writing this report?
The lack of existing research on parenting was surprising, with academic studies mainly focused on a single element of the parenting experience (such as early childhood education and care or parental mental health). Very little evidence-based research was available regarding particular cohorts of parents, and especially those parents who may be more likely to be working in precarious roles (such as single parents). The literature was therefore somewhat disjointed or piecemeal when reviewing articles in the context of the holistic parenting experience.
In some ways, this complexity mirrors the experience of parents – with some case study participants describing difficulty navigating the various parental leave policies from statutory and / or employer sources and how / if they interacted with one another.
Which findings if any surprised / concerned you the most during the research?
- Patterns that persist: The decisions regarding parental leave may seem “moment in time”, yet the implications can be “lifelong”. We found that the patterns established in early parenthood persist, and so enabling the sharing of care at this crucial time is very important. For some, perhaps this is not surprising once it is articulated, but very little public discourse exists in this area.
- The pandemic and parents: The research had been conceptualised prior to the onset of the pandemic. It was devastating to see the release of early data showing the increased mental distress experienced by parents, even in the very early stages of COVID-19. Combined with more recent pandemic data that shows a reversal of progress in terms of gender equality, the picture is fairly bleak.
- Parental loneliness: In a world where stigma about perinatal anxiety and depression seems to be reducing, it was striking to see the number of people who describe the parenting experience as lonely, and surprising to learn the high proportion of new parents who do not receive mental health support until they reach crisis point.
Why should people read the report?
Making Australia the Best Place in the World to be a Parent elevates an issue that is not always front of mind. With fertility rates being what they are, parenting is unquestionably an aspect of policy that deserves a dedicated focus. It affects health, employment, our next generation, gender equity. The list goes on. Yet so much of parenting itself is “invisible.” Parents are experiencing a dearth of parent-supportive environments in Australia, including (many) workplaces. The report brings to light what would be needed to better support parents, and what the benefits would be.
What would you like this research to achieve?
Change. For parents. For Australians. For our future generations. For the size of the economic “prize” if we get this right as a nation and as a community.
Why were you interested in pursuing this piece of research?
Being parents ourselves, this project was a unique opportunity to work in an area where we have direct day-to-day lived experience. In addition to the important economic and social policy analysis, the research provides an opportunity to open up a conversation about stigmas and making the “invisible visible.” It is no secret that many parents are struggling and those who examine elements of the parenting experience each bring a unique perspective, with some voices:
- Finding strength through global campaigning for paternity leave (see Dove Men + Care)
- Being stifled, deemed “too graphic” for family audiences, and needing to find alternative methods of raising awareness (see top 50 CNN story of 2020 regarding an innovative maternal healthcare company)
- Written by mothers, for mothers detailing “collective maternal distress” and raw frustration at the lack of supports (see In the Absence of the Village, Mothers Struggle Most)
Many parents dream that “things could be better”. Writing the research was a way to examine what “better” (and, even, the “best”) looks like and articulate these policies in an evidence based and concrete way.