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Number of stay-at-home fathers is growing, but remains relatively small

Over the last several decades, more fathers have become stay-at-home dads, whether through choice or necessity. The number of stay-at-home dads has almost doubled since 1989.
Emily Hales, Deseret News Modified: June 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm •  Published: June 5, 2014

The number of dads who stay at home with their children rather than go to work has nearly doubled since 1989, according to new statistics from Pew Research Center, but dads comprise just 16 percent of all stay-at-home parents.

Although the majority of fathers stay home due to uncontrollable forces such as illness and employment, many more fathers than before are choosing to stay at home and be the primary caretakers of the house and children while their wives support the family.

“The economic recession led many fathers to stay at home,” said Gretchen Livingston, the main author of the Pew report. “But we’ve seen continuing growth across the decades. The roles of mothers and fathers have converged to some extent.”

The Pew study considers a stay-at-home dad to be any father "not employed for pay at all in the prior year and living at home with their children younger than 18."

Under that definition, the number of stay-at-home dads in the United States in 2012 was 2 million — a 91 percent increase from 1989.

The researchers found four main reasons for fathers to stay home: caring for home/family, unable to find work, ill or disabled, and in school/retired/other.

Gaining confidence in their roles

The fathers who stay home to care for their family was the fastest-growing demographic over the last two decades. In 1989, 5 percent of fathers said they stayed home to care for the children. In 2012, that number had risen to 21 percent, a fourfold increase.

Livingston attributes this increase to shifting gender roles that allow more women to work outside the home and more men to stay home and parent.

Al Watts, president of the National At-Home Dad Network and a stay-at-home dad, agrees.

“The economics of gender has really begun to change in a dramatic way. There are simply more opportunities for men to make this choice than they had even 10 years ago,” Watts said.

However, stay-at-home fathers still account for only 7 percent of total fathers who live with their children.

“The public puts a high value on stay-at-home moms, but it’s not the case for fathers” Livingston said.

Although fathers gained more freedom to stay home in recent years, another Pew Research Center survey from 2013 indicates that more people believe that children are better off when the mother stays home (51 percent), rather than the father (8 percent).

Over the 11 years Watts has been a stay-at-home dad, he has seen a shift in public opinion when it comes to gender roles.

“Society is beginning to see that more and more men are taking this role and not losing their masculinity,” he said.

Watts believes that as society continues to change to allow individuals more liberty to choose an unorthodox life path, more fathers will decide to be the primary caretakers for their children.

“When I started staying home, I thought I was the only man in the world who was doing this. But as I began to get more comfortable just being a parent in general and as the primary caregiver, and also I began to meet more stay-at-home dads that were like me, so I didn’t feel like I was alone or a freak. That really helped me build my confidence up.”

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