Are men still the main breadwinners?
Have changes to the labour market, the household and government policy spelt an end to the traditional male breadwinner model in Australia?
That's the question University of Adelaide researcher Ray Broomhill is hoping to answer over the next three years.
Associate Professor Broomhill, from the University's Australian Institute of Social Research, has received a $131,000 ARC Discovery Grant to collaborate on a project looking at changes affecting the gender order.
The study's research team also includes Professor Rhonda Sharp from the University of South Australia and Professor Janine Brodie from the University of Alberta. Together they will examine Census data, interview residents from a cross-section of socio-economic households and analyse policy developments that have impacted on household gender arrangements.
"We will be looking at how changes in the labour market, changes in the household and changes in the policy level are interacting in Australia and affecting both gender equality and the process of social reproduction in society," Associate Professor Broomhill said.
"Existing research shows a fragmentation of the male breadwinner model and great variations between households. For example, the male breadwinner model seems to be the most resilient in the lower socio-economic groups, while more affluent families are moving away from that traditional model."
Evidence of a whole range of family structures is emerging, from dual breadwinner roles to a growing number of female breadwinner models and a variety of other arrangements as well.
"There is widespread concern that we are experiencing a breakdown of the stable, if frequently unreal, social structures that once existed in Australia - a shift to a sort of gender disorder," Associate Professor Broomhill said.
The potential demise of the male breadwinner model raises the question of who is going to take care of children, the sick and the elderly in future.
"Unfortunately, governments are usually so focused on making policy based purely on economic grounds that they don't think of the social implications until we have a crisis.
"The recent policy focus on declining fertility, the ageing of the workforce and shortages of care for the old, disabled and the young indicates that we have some serious issues to face in the near future."
The project brings together a number of different disciplines. Associate Professor Broomhill is a political economist and sociologist, Rhonda Sharp is Professor of Feminist Economics and Professor Brodie is a political scientist. The latter, a Canadian researcher with an international profile in social policy, will spend some time in Adelaide over the next three years.
Associate Professor Broomhill said he hoped their findings would be taken into consideration by Federal and State governments at the conclusion of the project.
"Having a stable and strong social fabric is economically sensible - and productive. If we can take a lead from the Scandinavian countries, which show progressive leadership on social issues, then we will go a long way towards averting a crisis in Australia's social fabric," he said.
Story by Candy Gibson