Webinar: Families Under Extreme Stress - "Normal" stresses and additional challenges arising from COVID-19

Watch the webinar recording

We are proud to be a sponsor of the week and its efforts to increase awareness and understanding of poverty and are delighted to be hosting two webinars during Anti-Poverty Week.

In Australia, there are more than 3.24 million people or 13.6% of the population living below the poverty line. That includes 774,000 children or more than 1 in 6. Anti-Poverty Week encourages us all to acknowledge these facts, engage in conversations, raise awareness, focus on positive solutions, and take action to end poverty.

In this virtual panel discussion, panellists from the University of Melbourne (UoM) and the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) will share insights from recent research on families’ recovery from economic recession, financial and mental stress on parents, and the systemic drivers of financial stress and the impact on children.

Join us for a presentation followed by Q&A, featuring:

Dr Dina Bowman, Principal Research Fellow, Work and Economic Security, BSL
Dr Matthew Curry, Ronald Henderson Research Fellow, Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic and Social Research, UoM & BSL
Dr Barbara Broadway, Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic and Social Research, UoM
A/Prof Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor, Social and Political Sciences, UoM

Families Under Extreme Stress: “Normal” Stresses and Additional Challenges Arising from COVID-19 – Q&A

When talking about children who rise out of poverty [Dr Matthew Curry] said that “the threat of poverty follows them”. Do we know if this continues as the children get to adolescence or adulthood?

Dr Matthew Curry: My analysis deals with children up to age 17, so that statement holds for my sample into adolescence. There is certainly much evidence that children who experience poverty go on to experience worse outcomes as adults, including a higher likelihood of experiencing poverty themselves (see Jenkins & Siedler “The Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty in Industrialized Countries”). These associations seem most often to hold even after controlling for many observable potential confounders, such as parental education. However, establishing a causal relationship is a bit trickier, so while poor children are certainly more likely to experience poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage as adults, it’s unclear whether child poverty per se is the cause of that later disadvantage.

I believe Roger Wilkins and Esperanza Vera-Toscano, both with the Melbourne Institute, will be giving a seminar on this exact topic (27 Oct Melbourne Institute Virtual Colloquium, titled “Does Poverty in Childhood Beget Poverty in Adulthood in Australia?”) and I imagine they will be able to more definitively answer this question in the Australian context. You can also access the recording of that webinar here.

Are there any recent state/federal policies that you think work well for women and children in poverty (or at least show potential to work well)?

Dr Dina Bowman:
• A tax and transfer system that recognises and enables moves in and out of paid work
• Universal free childcare and early learning
• Investment in public and social housing
• Family friendly workplace policies
• Enabling pre-employment programs like the JET program in its earlier iteration – to enable women to gain qualifications and develop careers
• Anti-violence policies to support women and their children
• Equitable child support policies
• See our report Trampolines Not Traps
• Also my presentation in case you’d like it (

Are there already some data and/or insights on COVID-19 & conflict within the family? Either in terms of domestic violence, or relationship stability?

Dr Barbara Broadway: I don’t have insights on this from own research – the Taking the Pulse of the Nation Survey does not collect information on these topics. Domestic violence in particular is a complex issue not easily covered in a short phone survey among the general population. There is evidence both from Australia and overseas that domestic violence has become both more common and more severe over the course of the pandemic. I am not aware of direct evidence on relationship stability.

Do you think there are any social or cultural factors that have impacted the levels of stress experienced by fathers (employed or unemployed)?

Dr Barbara Broadway: Given the level of stress experienced is greatest for fathers – even though the health effects are only marginally bigger for men and the direct economic effects of the pandemic have been more severe for women – it seems extremely likely that social and cultural factors are underlying this pattern. Even if we arrive at that statement just by way of exclusion. In my opinion, the most plausible explanation is that fathers feel it is their primary responsibility – at least more so than (partnered) mothers do – to adequately provide for the family, and a failure to do so is a threat to fathers’ sense of self-worth. This would be exacerbated if they are not only the main, but the sole breadwinner (as many secondary earners have lost their jobs). If that’s the case, the current economic situation would be very stressful both for fathers who already did lose their job, and for fathers who feel at risk of doing so.

Do you have information about the extent to which men and women’s work hours have changed since before COVID?

Dr Barbara Broadway: Our data includes information on whether a respondent’s working hours have increased, decreased or not changed due to COVID. (If the person is still employed.) However, if their hours have changed, we do not know by how much.
In the weeks from June to September, about one third of respondents reported a decrease in working hours, and under 10% reported an increase. People without children were slightly more likely than parents to still work the same number of hours they always did, with no substantial gender difference. For parents, fathers report reduced hours slightly more often, and increased hours much more often, than mothers do.

Do the results change when you separate Melbourne metro women from women in regional Victoria?

A/Prof Leah Ruppanner: We have not yet differentiated regional and urban Melbourne. We probably have adequate sample size to do so but would need to look at cell sizes as we make comparisons across gender.

Date & Time

Thu, 15 October, 2020

11:00 am – 12:00 pm (AEDT)