COVID 19 and ADF Partner Employment Part Five: domestic and caring work

The caring and household responsibilities of ADF partners has long been a concern of mine with respect to career development. Research from Canada “suggests that in order to function, militaries rely on spouses, most often wives, to undertake the majority of domestic labour, suspend their own careers, and relocate willingly for new postings” (1). The Canadian Defence Ombudsman said military spouses assume “a disproportionate parenting role, offsetting the serving spouse’s service-induced limitations” (2). The 2015 ADF Census reports the key reason for partners not working was “to stay at home and meet the needs of the family”. Defence life asks a lot of partners. Yet, the domestic workload of ADF partners doesn’t feature in reasons to support partner employment despite the fact that the women’s greater time out of the workforce to accommodate this work is one of the factors driving the gender pay gap in Australia. 

Many inequalities that existed prior to COVID19 have been exacerbated by the pandemic both in Australian households in general, and within ADF families. With work from home rising during Covid and schools and childcares shut down or restricted, the domestic and caring workloads in families became more apparent to many. In Australian households both men and women did more caring and household work but women did most of it. More women than men reported spending more time caring for children and adults and doing household chores. A  University of Melbourne studyreported that while men are doing more they aren’t doing as much as women. Active care and housework increased by 1 ½ hours for men but by 2 ½ hours for women. The Australian Institute of Family Studies survey revealed similar results – 52% of families said it was the mother who always or usually typically cared for children during the pandemic, with only 11% reporting it was always or usually the father. In terms of housework 41% said it was usually the female partner, 48% say it was shared equally, and 9% said it was the male partner. 

Due to the nature of ADF work including ADF members absences from home, many ADF partners (the vast majority of whom are women) were already shouldering much of the household and caring work within ADF families. ADF involvement in the Covid response meant many ADF members were away from home at a time when domestic responsibilities increased due to school, childcare and other closures and many workplaces switched to working from home in efforts to stop viral transmission – leaving ADF partners to manage their demanding professional and personal responsibilities alone. The partners of ADF members deployed or MWDU were already solo parent families bearing most of the domestic workload. The relief that reunion visits and recreation/relief out of country leave or paid services such as cleaning brought was halted as a result of Covid. Whilst some ADF members worked from home during the restrictions those who were deemed essential did not – meaning it was partners who took on the additional domestic and caring responsibilities. What impact did these arrangements have on partner employment (not to mention on partners’ wellbeing)? Without research we won’t know.  

Whilst absence from home is a hallmark of military life it is important the negative effects of this absence are mitigated as much as possible and that when members are at home that they are equitably sharing the domestic workload and are supported in doing so with flexible work practices. Researchers are looking at whether the pandemic can help reset the distribution of domestic work in Australian households. I believe it’s important that we conduct research within ADF families to determine what impact domestic and caring work is having on the careers of partners, and focus efforts on designing more family-friendly work practices within the ADF that support dual career families.  

  1. Spanner, L., Governing “dependents”: The Canadian military family and gender, a policy analysis. International Journal, 2017. 72(4): p. 484-502. 
  2. Daigle, P., On the Homefront. Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millenium. 2013, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman 
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Part One: the labour market

Part Two: career development and career management

Part Three: flexible and remote work

Part Four: essential workers

Part Six: financial security

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