June 9, 2014
According to a study this month by Pew, stay at homes dads are still on the rise. YOU’LL SEE him in art classes with his toddler. Or in the playgrounds on weekday mornings. He cuts a lonely and gently rumpled figure among clots of mothers in their Pilates gear. The stay-at-home dad is a rapidly growing phenomenon among America’s parents. The number of fathers who do not go to work has risen markedly in recent years and stood at 2m in 2012, up from 1.1m in 1989, according to new data from a Pew survey.
Just half of stay-at-home fathers are white, and black dads are twice as likely as white men to be home with their children. Mark Portis, who lives near St. Louis, is African-American and dropped out of high school in his junior year (he later got his GED). He has two young children with his wife, but he also has three older daughters he never lived with, he says. He never married their mothers. When he finally did marry, he says he wanted things to be different. “I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for … six years,” he says. His 6-year-old son is at camp, and his 3-year-old daughter is being fussy about lunch. “She wants candy,” he says, laughing.
Part of the story is the recession. Peak Dad was actually reached in 2012 when 2.2m were at home, which was 16% of primary carers. Since then many have returned to paid work. Nonetheless, the long-term trends show stay-at-home dads are increasing. Only 21% say their main reason to be at home is to care for the home or the family, yet this is a big jump from 1989 when only 5% gave this as a reason. Most say they are at home because of illness or disability, or because they cannot find work. By contrast, 73% of stay-at-home mothers say they are at home specifically to care for the home or the family.
Stay-at-home dads face quiet discrimination. Although the public is supportive of mothers staying at home, they are less so with fathers. A survey found that 51% of respondents said children are better off if their mother is at home and doesn’t hold a job. Only 8% said the same was true for fathers. Socially, they can feel isolated within the undeniably female culture of parenting where “mother knows best”.
The number of stay-at-home moms has also been on the rise as many women struggle to find jobs that pay enough to cover the cost of childcare, according to a separate Pew report released earlier this year.