More Dads Are Staying At Home, But Moms Still Do Most Of The Childrearing

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The number of stay-at-home fathers has nearly doubled since 1989, climbing from 1.1 million to 2 million in 2012, according to a Pew analysis of Census Bureau data, but while the sheer number of fathers who leave the workforce to be at home full time is growing, they still make up a tiny percentage of traditional stay-at-homers.

The high point was in 2010, when 2.2 million fathers were staying at home full time, but the number has fallen slightly since then thanks to declining unemployment. A growing share of these fathers are at home to care for children: 21 percent are home taking care of family, up from just 5 percent in 1989. Comparatively, about three-quarters of mothers, on the other hand, are home full time to care for their families.

The largest share of men staying home — 35 percent — is home because of an illness or injury. Nearly another quarter are home because they can’t find a job.

Pew notes that fathers make up 16 percent of all at-home parents, an increase from 10 percent in 1989. Yet families with a stay-at-home father and a working mother make up less than 1 percent of all families with children headed by a married couple, according to an analysis by University of Maryland Professor Philip N. Cohen, while those with a stay-at-home mother and working father make up about a quarter. By that definition, “stay-at-home mothers outnumber [stay-at-home] fathers 100 to 1,” he told ThinkProgress.


CREDIT: Philip N. Cohen

As with the growing share of stay-at-home mothers who are living in poverty and have a high school diploma or less, stay-at-home dads are twice as likely to have dropped out of high school compared to working fathers while half live in poverty, compared to 8 percent of working fathers. For at-home moms, these barriers to getting jobs that pay well enough to cover the sky-high costs of childcare are a big factor in why they don’t work — much more rarely are they well-educated, high-income moms who opt out of their careers.

On the whole, fathers are certainly more involved with their children than they ever have been. They have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend on childcare since 1965, and they may wish they could do more, as about an equal share of moms and dads say they are stressed about balancing work and family responsibilities. Yet they are also more likely to want to work full time than mothers, and women are still doing the lion’s share of childrearing, spending double the time on it that fathers do and more than the mothers of the 1960s did. Women are also far more likely to adjust their careers to take care of family members.