• NCLD Summer 2016-17 newsletter

    Welcome to the summer edition of the National Centre for Longitudinal Data’s (NCLD) newsletter, distributed around four times a year to showcase news, information and events in longitudinal data.

  • Kids with older mums do better: study

    Children born to older mothers perform better on cognitive tests than those with younger mothers, a study suggests.

    The move is a turn-around from 40 years ago when children born to younger mothers performed better, experts say.

  • Work hour limits need to change for better mental health and gender equality

    supporting image

    Authors, Huong Dinh, Jennifer Welsh and Lyndall Strazdins, Australian National University

    Australian businesses need to adhere to a healthy work hour limit for the mental health of workers and to take into account the amount of caring work women do at home, our research shows.

    More than 80 years ago, when most paid jobs were worked by men, the International Labour Organization (ILO) set the work week limit to 48 hours a week. This was based on evidence that long work hours are bad for health. Since then, the labour market has changed. Almost half of the workforce is made up of women and two-fifths of employed adults hold down a job while caring for children or elderly parents.

    Employers in Australia should honour the current 38 weekly hours set by the National Employment Standards. But more than 40% employed Australians work more than 40 hours per week at the moment.

    We modelled work hour limits and what happens to mental health when they are exceeded using data from 3,828 men and 4,062 women aged from 24 to 64, as part of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. Our findings showed that on average, the maximum number of hours that can be worked before mental health starts to suffer is 39 hours. We did this by looking at the reciprocal relationships between work time, mental health and wage in our modelling. This 39 hour threshold is a full nine hours less than the ILO’s 48-hour-week.

    However, the average working hours in a week hides an important gender difference.

    The differences between men’s and women’s working hours

    Women usually spend more time caregiving and have very different experiences on the job. This is because they have lower pay and less paid leave entitlement.

    Women are still working in a labour market that systematically disadvantages them in terms of pay, conditions and rewards. Women have less autonomy than men and they earn 17% or $277.70 less per week on average, full time. Hour for hour, women get less.

    These differences don’t reflect any natural difference between men and women. We know that women are as educated and as skilled as men.

    The playing field is not level and this affects work hour limits. When systematic differences in resources and rewards on and off the job are also taken into account, our study shows the work hour limit widens further to 34 hours for women compared to 47 hours for men.

    This gives men a 13 hour time advantage on the job, largely because they spend much less time on care or domestic work than women. Only if women were to spend very little time on care or domestic work, and if they had the same resources and rewards on and off the job, would the work hour limits converge.

    Under these assumptions men and women without care responsibilities can work up to 48 hours before their mental health is affected. However, anyone who spends significant time caring for others or doing domestic work is unable to work long hours without facing a likely health trade-off.

    The hour glass ceiling is self perpetuating

    Our study reveals that current limits and assumptions about how long Australians should work if they want a “good” full time job is systematically disadvantaging women’s health.

    Men dominate the workforce with long working hours – these jobs are often paid the best. This creates an expectation of working long hours if you want a good job.

    This is no longer feasible or fair for a majority of Australian households, both adults now need to work, locking women into short part time hours in order for households to manage. We show that if men were to do more of the caring then their work hour limit also lowers. So the way our job market is at the moment is a problem for men who want to contribute more to care and domestic activities.

    In contrast to this, in Finland, the vast majority of men and women both work full time, with lower average work hours and less of a gap between the sexes (40 hours for men, 38 for women). Not surprisingly Finland outperforms Australia on most gender equality indicators.

    Australian employers need to continue support women to be employed and to earn equal pay, for example with good quality childcare and reducing sex discrimination in the workplace and beyond. But employers also need to support men to give time to care without suffering a job or pay penalty.

    Australia also needs to tackle the widespread belief that it is fair or feasible for people to work long hours without compromising either their health or gender equality.

    Australian businesses need to adhere to a healthy work hour limit for the mental health of workers and to take into account the amount of caring work women do at home, our research shows.

    This article was first published in The Conversation on 2 February, 2017.

  • How discrimination and stressful events affect the health of our Indigenous kids

    Author, Professor Tom Calma, Australian National University

    Footprints in Time, or its more formal title, the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC), is approaching its tenth year of collecting data from around 1,700 Indigenous children, their families and teachers. It follows two cohorts of children: a group who were aged 6-18 months at the beginning of the study, and a group who were aged between 3.5 and 5 years.

    LSIC broke new ground worldwide for studying the social, developmental and familial dynamics of a group of Indigenous children and their families. Data are collected from Indigenous families across Australia, from cities to remote locations. We can use these data to consider how our Indigenous children have grown up against a backdrop of efforts to resolve and improve long-term indicators of disadvantage.

    The benefit of using longitudinal data for this kind of hindsight analysis is that we are looking at the same children and the same families; we can see what’s changed and how those changes have affected these children.

    Major life events

    Major life events have a significant influence, not only on the people involved, but flowing on to those around them. Things that happen to one family member may affect other or even all family members, including children. Recent research from the US showed that every suicide has impacts that affect about 135 people.

    Events may be either positive or detrimental, including birth, death, marriage, divorce, being a victim of violence or observing violence, or being a victim of property crime. The list of stressors is long and can include things like the inability to practice culture and language, or continually changing government policies and funding.

    Research examined the occurrence of stressful events over 12 months, and found that where fewer than three stressful events occurred, around 15% of children aged 4-11 were at high risk of emotional or behavioural difficulties.

    This figure increased to 25% for families who experienced between three and six stressful events, while the percentage of children at risk of difficulties rose to 42% in families who experienced seven or more stressful events.

    High Indigenous mortality together with strong social connectedness within Indigenous communities may mean that, tragically, Indigenous children may observe the death of relatives and experience grieving more often than the general population.

    LSIC reports that around 25% of all LSIC parents attend one to two funerals a year; while nearly another 25% may attend four a year, and almost 9% may attend five to ten a year.

    A feature of longitudinal data is it offers the chance to compare different studies. A comparison between the LSIC data with another longitudinal child development study, Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), shows that children in the Indigenous study were three times more likely than those in the Australian children study to have been affected by a death outside the household in the past 12 months.

    Indigenous families were also:

    • twice as likely to have moved house in the past year

    • three times as likely to have been affected by a relative outside the household being ill, and

    • six times as likely to have been suffering financial stress.

    One of the most striking results recorded in LSIC was that children experiencing seven or more major life events had average vocabulary test scores two points lower (out of 50 points) than Indigenous children experiencing fewer life events.

    And a further unfortunate flow-on effect of cumulative stress is that stress on Indigenous parents results in increased smoking, which can substantially reduce the length and quality of the lives of Indigenous people. LSIC data reports for each life event a parent experiences, their likelihood of smoking is 2.5% higher.


    Beyond Blue has previously highlighted how the non-Indigenous population discriminates against Indigenous Australians. Their report shows one in five non-Indigenous Australians admits that they would discriminate against an Indigenous person in some circumstances.

    This is upsetting on any level and begs the question of what these attitudes mean for the experiences of Indigenous people themselves, and of their children. LSIC data can help to provide answers.

    Looking at the data, parents who experience discrimination are less likely to report good or better health. In 2011, Indigenous parents experiencing discrimination generally reported fair or poor health at a rate 9% greater than parents who did not report discrimination.

    It’s not just the deleterious effects on the parents that are of concern, but the collateral and intergenerational flow-on impact to Indigenous children’s outcomes that demonstrate the effect of discrimination on the whole family.

    At six to seven years of age, 57% of Indigenous children with a mother who reported discrimination had more social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. In comparison, 43% of children of non-discriminated mothers reported increased scores of social and emotional difficulties.

    The LSIC study, and a Beyond Blue report, show discrimination is significant whether you ask the non-Indigenous or the Indigenous population. Discrimination causes harm to the mental and physical health of Indigenous people, and like cumulative stress, impacts strongly on the children of affected families from one generation to the next.

    The effect of cumulative stress through multiple life events can be seen to cause harm to parents, through effects such as increasing smoking.

    But some efforts to address the negative health outcomes from smoking are showing strong signs of success. The LSIC data shows us the percentage of Indigenous people who smoked inside the house was around 25% in 2008, and by 2014 had dropped to around 17% (across Australia data from 2013 was 3.7%).

    In the most recent (unpublished) LSIC data, fewer than 15% of Indigenous people smoke inside their house. While this is still too high, this shows messages are getting through, and critical benefits to Indigenous people are being achieved through engagement with Indigenous communities and education campaigns.

    If concerted efforts can improve the lives of Indigenous people through addressing smoking, then the same should be possible for discrimination. Using authoritative data to speak out against discrimination is an important first step.

    While Beyond Blue’s efforts in raising awareness of discrimination among the non-Indigenous population is commendable, more needs to be done. With powerful data sets like the LSIC resource, sharing and linking data across sectors can demonstrate not only the occurrence of events, but the impact of those events on individuals and families in the community.

    This article was first published in The Conversation on 27 October, 2016.

  • In a world awash with data, is the census still relevant? Find out why it is.

    The Australian Census came under intense scrutiny in the wake of #censusfail. Parliament conducted a review, the Senate an inquiry, and some in the media questioned the entire point.

    But cost and privacy concerns aside, population is one of the three pillars of the economy.

    Read more

  • Long-term gain: the promise of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging

    It is massive in scope, logistically challenging and runs until 2033, but the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging is already providing insights into the process of aging, says its lead investigator.

    “More people are living longer worldwide, yet we have very little data that allows us to advance the science of aging or to inform policies and programs at the federal, provincial and municipal level,” said Parminder Raina, a geriatric epidemiologist and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Geroscience at McMaster University.

    Read more

  • Prime Minister and Cabinet's consultation process on unlocking Australia's high-value data

    Click here to participate in the Prime Minister and Cabinet's consultation process on unlocking high-value data in Australia

  • Review of Australia’s Longitudinal Data System (the Review)

    by janelle,
    CLOSED: This map consultation has concluded

    During the 2015-16 Budget cycle, the National Centre for Longitudinal Data (NCLD) commissioned a Review of Australia’s Longitudinal Data System (the Review), with the key objective of informing the Australian Government’s future investment in both administrative and survey-based longitudinal data.

    The NCLD engaged the Nous Group Pty Ltd, who has worked in conjunction with the NCLD to develop the Review report, which was completed on 31 August 2016.

    A whole-of-Government Steering Committee of Commonwealth SES officers and academics provided guidance during the December 2015 to August 2016 Review period. The Committee ensured an approach consistent with the Government’s national policy priorities, and also considered other Commonwealth review recommendations such as the report by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Public Sector Data Management, and the Department of Social Services’ A New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes Report (McClure report 25 February 2015).

    The following Review recommendation will be subject to decisions of Government: existing core national longitudinal assets be preserved and funded; the longitudinal data system be strengthened and a federated governance system adopted; and further investment be made in the harmonisation, coverage and impact of longitudinal data.

    You can play a role in shaping the future of Australia’s longitudinal data system by getting involved; join the conversation by visiting the interactive exhibition at the Longitudinal Data Conference, and participate in discussion forums within The Source.