An Australian study of couples expecting a baby found that pregnant partners of “fly-in-fly-out” (FIFO) workers reported more stress. FIFO workers typically work 2 weeks away and spend 2 weeks home, or 3 weeks away and 1 week at home.
394 couples, with an average age of 30 for both parents, completed self-reported ratings of anxiety, depression, stress and family functioning.
No additional stress was found among the work-away workers. Three possible explanations for this are put forward: (1) the men are hiding some of their true feelings, (2) a lifestyle free of housework and childcare and with peer friendship is indeed less stressful than being at home, (3) a self-selection effect, with families choosing FIFO having considered it carefully and making an effort to mitigate the problems associated with it.
The study found no correlation with family income: the additional stress of the mothers was the same across all income-bands. This contrasts with earlier research that has indicated lower resourced families struggle more with fathers being away for long periods.
Fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) work in remote parts of the country is widespread in parts of Australia. In 2015 there were about 60,000 people working on FIFO contracts in Western Australia. In the Pilbara region it is estimated that 75% of the workforce will be working in FIFO contracts by next year.
There is mixed and indistinct evidence from earlier research about FIFO working on workers’ health and on their families. As in this study, increased stress, relationship and parenting pressures have been observed for the stay-at-home partner. Other studies have shown higher levels of smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity among FIFO workers.
Others studies from the USA, Japan, the Netherlands and the UK have looked at the military, at the offshore oil and gas industry and at families where the father is a business traveller. There is some evidence from this body of research of negative impact on child development, in particular behaviour and emotional wellbeing.
The researchers recommend that antenatal services take into account the additional stress likely to be experienced by pregnant partners of FIFO workers.
Cooke DC, Kendall G, Li J & Dockery M (2019), Association between pregnant women’s experience of stress and partners’ fly-in-fly-out work, Women and Birth 32
Photo: Riccardo Battistella. Creative Commons.