More Men Are Choosing the Role of 'Stay-at-Home Dad'


Maybe we’re finally rid of those dumb “Mr. Mom” stereotypes: As of 2012, America’s population of stay-at-home dads climbed to 2 million. That’s nigh-on double from 1989, when it was 1.1 million.

And according to Pew Research, a larger share of those men are sticking around the house explicitly for childrearing—21 percent in 2012, compared to a measly 5 percent in 1989. Admittedly, the number of moms who stay at home remains much, much higher—10.4 million in 2012. But men now comprise 16 percent of stay-at-homers, as opposed to 10 percent in 1989. It certainly looks like families are increasingly comfortable with dad staying home.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Roughly a fifth of dads have chosen this particular path primarily to care for their kids. That leaves a whole lot of guys who’re basically stuck. As the Atlantic points out, 23 percent of fathers say they’re home because they can’t find a job; another 35 percent are sick or disabled. In comparison, Pew says 73 percent of stay-at-home moms have made a conscious childcare decision.

It’s great when men feel comfortable with the role of primary caregiver; it’s terrible when someone’s simply been backed into a corner by life circumstances and a shitty economy. And the numbers get bleaker the deeper you dive:

Stay-at-home fathers are less well-off financially and have lower educational attainment than their working counterparts. At-home fathers are twice as likely to lack a high school diploma as working fathers (22% vs. 10%). And almost half (47%) of stay-at-home fathers are living in poverty, compared with 8% of working fathers. This poverty figure is even higher than among stay-at-home mothers (34% of whom are in poverty), and may be due, in part, to the fact that stay-at-home fathers are far less likely to have a working spouse than stay-at-home mothers (50% vs. 68%) and are more likely to be ill or disabled than stay-at-home mothers (35% vs. 11%).

And in fact, the share of stay-at-home dads actually peaked in 2010—i.e., the wake of the Great Recession—at 2.2 million.

Nevertheless, Pew says that men explicitly choosing the roles of primary caregiver and stay-at-home dad are “the biggest contributor to long-term growth.” Given that, as of 2013, 51 percent of survey respondents said kids were better off if their moms stayed home, that’s an encouraging development.

Photo via BlueSkyImage/Shutterstock.

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