A 2014 Pew Research Center study estimated that there were approximately 2 million at-home dads in the U.S. in 2012, up from 1.1 million in 1989. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, which uses a more restrictive definition of an “at-home father,” the percentage of at-home dads has risen from 1.6% of families with an at-home parent in 2001 to 3.9% in 2014, a substantial increase albeit from a very small base.
There has been a dramatic change in the reasons fathers cite for becoming at-home dads. In the 1970s, only 1% of at-home fathers said they were in this role to take care of the home/family compared to 22% of at-home fathers from 2000 to 2009. In the 1970s, nearly three-quarters (72.7%) of all at-home fathers stated they were home full-time either because they had difficulty finding work or because they were medically unable to do work, whereas only about half (51.9%) of at-home fathers reported the same reasons in recent years (Kramer, Kelly & McCulloch, 2013).
While at-home dads continue to be more the exception than the rule, what is clear is that fathers’ attitudes about caregiving, including full-time caregiving, are changing. In our 2011 BCCWF study of working fathers, 53% of fathers “agreed” or “strongly agreed” when asked “If your spouse earned enough money to support your family’s needs, would you consider being a stay-at-home dad?”
In our 2012 BCCWF study of at-home dads we learned that in general these fathers were comfortable in their role and generally assessed themselves as doing a good or very good job. The fathers reported that being an at-home parent initially took adjustment, and they were faced with a number of challenges including:
• The loss of a social network. This is felt even more acutely by at-home fathers since their numbers continue to be low.
• Feelings of being stigmatized due in great measure to the continuing sense that the at-home parent role is still not appropriate for a man.
• The fear that their future employment would be jeopardized by the fact that they had taken on this non-traditional role.
In spite of these obstacles, we found evidence that the at-home dads we studied were good parents. Not only did the fathers we interviewed view themselves in a positive light, but their spouses strongly confirmed their assessments. The at-home fathers were clearly devoted to their children and were active, involved parents. Much like our image of the competent and caring at-home mom, these fathers were committed to their children, supportive of their spouses, and doing the myriad of daily tasks needed to maintain their households, even if in a few cases their assessment of a clean house fell slightly short of their wives’ standards.