'Working for nothing': Childcare crisis pushes Sydney parents to the brink

Young Australians' home loan hangover

Mortgage debt on primary residences among young Australians almost doubled between 2002 and 2014, according to the latest release of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.

Most parents are experiencing substantial difficulties with the financial burden and lack of availability of childcare, with costs that have more than doubled for some families in just over a decade.

A national survey, which has tracked more than 17,000 people in 9500 households since 2002, has released its latest snapshot of the nation, including our attitude to family life.

The long-running report shows people are becoming more progressive in their attitudes on topics such as gay marriage.

Kate Murphy with her son Micheal and daughter Sarah at their home in Oyster Bay.
Kate Murphy with her son Micheal and daughter Sarah at their home in Oyster Bay. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Every demographic, except men over 65, agrees that homosexual couples should have the same rights as straight couples.

The report – Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) – also shows that, later in life, men want to have children more than women do, though they also say they ended up with more children than they intended to.

And women who want kids at 35 have a 50-50 chance of it happening.

Kate Murphy believes the cost of childcare is high but worth the price.

The Oyster Bay high school teacher was unsurprised to learn that the cost of childcare has doubled in real terms, describing it as a "burden" but one which pays off long term.

Ms Murphy and her husband have two children, Sarah, three and Michael, one, who attend a local childcare centre three days a week.


The centre charges $122 a day but the Federal Government childcare rebate runs out six weeks before the end of the financial year, leaving the family thousands of dollars out of pocket.

"For six weeks of the year you feel as if you're working for nothing," Ms Murphy said.

"But you have to weigh up the cost of not working at all, and for our family the benefit of staying in the workforce outweighs the cost of childcare.

"I am not going to work for financial gain. I am going to work so I can continue to have a career."

Ms Murphy described the quality of care provided at her children's childcare centre as "excellent" and worth the price, but felt the rebate should be applied more evenly so it did not unfairly penalise families where both parents are in the workforce.

How many people use paid childcare?

Kids with single parents are in formal childcare for more than 31 hours a week, almost nine hours more than two years before.

Couples have their kids in care for 23 hours a week on average, according to the HILDA survey.

How much does childcare cost?

The cost of childcare for children under five has spiked considerably since 2002, up 75 per cent for couples and 104 per cent for single since 2002.

Couples now spend $162 a week on average, for singles it's $114.

Same for the rich and poor?

In 2002, those in the top third of incomes spent more of their money on child care than the bottom third.

That has since switched, with poor households spending 8.5 per cent of their household income on childcare, while the rich spend 7 per cent.

But are they satisfied with it?

Dissatisfaction has grown, with more than three quarters of people complaining about "substantial difficulties" with childcare due to quality, availability or cost.

These problems have proved to be persistent, with nearly all saying they experienced those concerns from one year to the next.

Is it the same outside the major cities?

Availability difficulties are most commonly reported in urban Tasmania and in all non-capital-city urban areas other than Victoria.

Cost pressures are felt most in Sydney, the ACT and NT, as well as outside the major cities of Queensland and South Australia.


How many stick to their family plans?

More than half of women said they were done having kids by the time they reach 30.

However, about a third of those changed their plans and became mothers in the next 10 years.

Who wanted kids but didn't have them?

Once they hit 35, about a quarter of people said they intended to have a child.

But just under half of women didn't have them by the time they were 45.

For men, the numbers were more in their favour.


Who wants kids later in life?

Men are more likely than women to want children when they're into their forties.

About one in eight men aged 40 are keen to have kids, compared with one in 14 women.

That difference remained at 44, when 6.8 per cent of men still intended to have kids compared to just 1.3 per cent of women.

Who regrets having kids?

While men want kids more than women when they're older, they are also far more likely to have more than they'd planned.

More than 10 per cent of men in their forties said they had more children than they intended.

For women it was less than one per cent.

What about younger people?

This statistics are reversed at younger ages, with women under 35 more likely than men to say their family was bigger than planned.

So when will the kids move out?

Most sons are still living at home until their late 20s, while more than half of daughters have packed up their stuff before 25.

The statistics are trending towards children staying at home longer.

How have our views on families changed?

Attitudes to marriage and children have become more progressive across all demographic groups, particularly towards gay rights.

Men and women in nearly every age group now agree that homosexual couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

The only exception was men aged 65 and over.

What about working mothers?

Opinions on parenting and work have also become less traditional, with the biggest shifts coming in disagreement to statements such as "mothers who don't really need the money shouldn't work".

While their beliefs have also changed, men are more likely to hold conservative views towards employment.