"There's no question that guys are doing more, twice to three times as much, in fact — for couples working two full-time jobs and caring for children 6 and under — than in the 1970s," said Arlie Hochschild, whose groundbreaking book "The Second Shift," documented how an earlier generation of women did the lion's share of child care and housework even if they had jobs outside the home.
Jay Fagan, a sociology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and founding editor of the academic journal Fathering, says the inverse relationship between hours worked outside and inside the home makes sense: "When the mother is working full-time, it is impossible for her to do everything." But there's another aspect too, he notes: "The more you earn, the more it buys you out of some of the mundane responsibilities."
For their part, the new dads say they want things divided equally. Fatherhood, says Jeremy Foster, 37, of Kansas City, Mo., has gone from a "provide, protect scenario, to a team effort, especially nowadays with couples raising children where both work full-time."
At one point, when his 1-year-old Sophia wasn't sleeping well, Foster even moved into the nursery so that his wife, a social worker, could get enough sleep. "I'd rock Sophia and get her back to sleep so my wife wasn't doing all the work," said Foster, a creative director and designer for an online platform called CD2 Learning.
Foster and his wife also have his-and-her diaper bags — hers with a floral pattern, his a gray-and-orange messenger bag from DiaperDude.com. The company was founded 10 years ago by Chris Pegula of Santa Monica, Calif., a father of three who was put off by his wife's taste in diaper bags.
"They were so feminine, there was no way in hell I was going to carry one of them," said Pegula, now 41. "They had colorful stripes and flowers and leopard prints. They were basically purses. I went to look for a bag for myself but there wasn't anything on the market in a dad category." Diaper Dude now sells dozens of styles designed to appeal to men, from camouflage prints to bags with baseball team logos.
Other signs that hands-on dads are now mainstream range from changing tables in men's restrooms to unisex baby showers to paternity leave in the workplace. Or, as a new survey from Men's Health magazine and BabyCenter.com summed it up, "Dad is the New Mom." But the outside world has not completely accepted the notion of dads as equal partners. Randi Wall, 25, of Northfield, N.J., says she still gets "a lot of negative comments" from "elders" about her fiance, Douglas White, Jr., 24, who works as a mechanic and also helps around the house and with their two kids.
Wall, who works from home in advertising and marketing, tunes the naysayers out, saying, "I'm extremely proud of the man and the father that he is. Sharing our responsibilities makes our relationship, and our family, function much more smoothly." White, for his part, says his "choice to help out and take part in our children's lives does not diminish Randi's ability to be a wonderful mother and significant other."
Fagan, the Temple professor, says "there's no question that young fathers are far more involved," not just in how much time they spend with kids, but also in "their sense of who they are as individuals — their personal identities."
But he noted that the trend of sharing child care and housework is "largely happening among college-educated couples." Families where parents lack college degrees and are struggling with unemployment are "more likely to be raising their children as single parents," he said. "It's a real concern."
Even in two-parent families, how much dads do around the house depends on "how much the mother is working and how much she is earning," Fagan added. An ongoing study of how Americans use their time shows that the more mothers earn, the more fathers do at home. "Father's involvement goes down if she's not working full-time and if her earnings are much less than his," he said.
Fagan added that there is also a downside to a world where dads and moms not only both work full-time, but share all the chores, too.
"Now everybody's exhausted," he said. "The issues of work-family balance did not go away."