The number of dads who stay home full-time with their children has reached an all-time high of more than a half-million in the last decade, according to a new study from the University of Illinois.
They're not all caregivers, though. Of the 550,000 men who stay home, most are disabled, ill or unemployed.
The study, which will be published in the Journal of Family Issues, notes that when compared to moms who stay at home with the kids, the stay-home dads are older, less educated than their spouses and they belong to households with lower incomes.
A research team headed by University of Illinois sociologist Karen Z. Kramer said more dads are expected to be in-home dads in the future.
About 550,000 men were stay-at-home dads in the past decade. That's about 3.5 percent of all married couples with children in households where at least one spouse worked full-time. In the 1970s, about 2 percent of households had men who stayed home with the kids.
"Once the norm among two-parent families, the share of stay-at-home mothers fell from about half in the 1970s to a third in the last decade," noted Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends senior editor Rich Morin, writing about the new study on a Pew blog.
"During that time, the proportion of couples where both spouses work at least 35 hours a week soared from 46.1 percent to 63.2 percent," he wrote.
The data came from the Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Included in the analysis were married couples with children where at least one spouse worked at least 35 hours a week. They counted as a stay-at-home parent if they did not work for pay outside the home.
Those findings are broadly consistent with a study published earlier this year by Pew, which said the average age of stay-home dads was 41. The Kramer study found the same thing.
Of note in the earlier Pew study was the finding that dads who stay home help more with housework than do working dads. Moms who stay home spend more time caring for the house and on active child care.
In a preliminary report on the findings in August 2012, Kramer, a professor of human and community development in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, said that dads in the 1970s typically only stayed home if they were disabled or couldn't find work. Since then, fathers have had the same option moms have had to leave the workforce to care for their kids. Just over one in five of the families surveyed in 2000 had dads who embraced that option.
The change “from virtually no fathers reporting that they stay at home to more than one-fifth of fathers (staying) at home indicates a major shift in domestic and family arrangements,” Kramer said in a written statement in August. And some dads who never intended to remain home may decide they like it, she said.
“Once a family gets into the routine of functioning as a SAHF (stay-at-home-father) household, the husband becomes more selective about which jobs he’ll accept, and he’ll only go back to work if he finds something he thinks is appropriate,” Kramer said.
The ones who choose to be SAHF tend to be higher income and have more children under 5, as well as wives with greater earning potential. That's not true of the dads who are home not by choice, but because of disability or unemployment.
When the New York Times asked the Census Bureau to expand its estimate to include men with freelance or part-time jobs who serve as primary caretakers for their children, the number was higher. The bureau estimated around 626,000 men would fit that bill.
The National At-Home Dad Network told the Deseret News it believes the Census Bureau seriously undercounts how many there are because it only counts those not in the labor force. It excludes some caregiver dads counted by 2009 research from Appalachian State University — part-time workers and those who work opposite shifts from a spouse so they can be primary caregivers to their children. That number exceeded 1.4 million five years ago.
While the numbers are going up, it's a relatively small trend. In an article in The Atlantic called "The Overhyped Rise of Stay-at-Home Dads," Jordan Weissmann wrote that even "small percentages probably overstate the relative importance of stay-at-home fathers in the context of U.S. families. First, we're living in the age of the single parent. More than half of births to women under 30 happen out of wedlock, and women disproportionately end up taking care of those children. Second, even among two-parent households where women work, the percentage of men acting as the primary caregiver has actually declined slightly since the early 1990s."
While the numbers are slightly higher, he said, "if anything, the last 15 years has seen men collectively stop taking on more responsiblity as caregivers, not take on more of it."
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