"This is an extraordinary decline," Professor Richardson said in an interview. "Men of prime parenting age who are married and employed full-time are a threatened species."
While lifestyle choice might be part of the story, Professor Richardson said, changes in the labour market had made it increasingly hard for "sizeable numbers" of men to find secure full-time jobs; particularly men with no post-school education who could not find full-time work after they lost jobs in the declining manufacturing sector.
The official jobless rate of 5.8 per cent failed to capture the full picture, as it counted as "employed" people who had worked as little an hour a week, Professor Richardson said.
In the 25 to 54 age bracket, full-time employment among men had fallen more than 10 percentage points since 1976. At least two men in every 10 in these key "family formation" years were not in full-time jobs.
"Some are unemployed, others are in part-time jobs and some are not in the workforce at all," Professor Richardson said.
"But whatever they are doing, they are scarcely in a position to become fathers, unless they can find a wife who can support the family."
Women were not stepping in to take on the breadwinning work vacated by men. The proportion of married women who worked full-time had hardly changed.
One consequence was that the fertility rate, at 1.7 children per woman, was the lowest on record.
While an "alarming" 18 per cent of children lived in a household with no employed parent, the growth was in sole-mother families, not couple families.Jobless men, it seemed, had chosen to forgo fatherhood.
Australia's answer to labour-market changes had been to offer men unemployment benefits. "We ought to be offering them full-time jobs," Professor Richardson said.
Mother's job becoming solitary one
October 4, 2003
More women are having children alone, unable to find men willing to commit to marriage or the cost of setting up a household, a study has found.
The proportion of single mothers aged 30 to 34 who fell into this category jumped from 17 per cent of female lone parents in 1986 to 42 per cent in 2001, according to the study, released today.
Among younger women aged 25 to 29 who were sole parents, the number was even greater, increasing from 37 per cent to 66 per cent over the same period. The author of the Monash University research, Dr Bob Birrell, said this group of single women heralded a new social phenomenon.
It also raised concerns about the financial and emotional hardships for the women and children involved.
"It is not the case that these women are unwilling to get married - they would probably quite like to marry," Dr Birrell said. "But the marriage market they're operating in contains men who lack the resources to take on the creation of a new household, men who are unwilling to get married or live in a de facto relationship."
The growing trend of unpartnered women having children is backed by preliminary findings from another study by the Monash team of all exnuptial births in Victoria in 2001.
It found that when unmarried new mothers in hospital were asked if they had a de facto partner, almost half said they did not.
Dr Birrell said the rapid increase in the number of mothers who had never married and were not in