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In photos released by Sara Brandfon, her husband Mike Brandfon posed with their daughters Abby and Sophie in Chicago. The number of U.S. fathers who stay at home with their kids — for a variety of reasons — doubled in the past 25 years and is down from a peak 2.2 million in 2010, the end of the recession, to about 2 million in 2012, a Pew Research Center report released Thursday found. The report found that dads who stay home still face criticism. Brandfon, 48, lost his job at a mid-size public relations company in December 2009 and became a stay-at-home dad. He joined a dads’ group for park outings with the kids and the occasional night out. When the girls were nearly 3 years old, he began looking for work again and landed a job last September.

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This photo taken Dec. 1, 2013, by Sharon Gaietto shows the Brandfon family, father Mike, mother Sara and their twin daughters Abby, left, and Sophie, both 3. The number of U.S. fathers home with their kids full time for a variety of reasons is down from a peak 2.2 million in 2010, the official end of the recession, to about 2 million in 2012, according to a report released Thursday, June 5, 2014, by the Pew Research Center. Brandfon, 48, of Chicago falls lost his job at a mid-size public relations company in December 2009 and was a stay at home dad. He joined a dads' group for park outings with the kids and the occasional night out for a beer. Once the girls were nearly 3 years old, he began looking for work again and landed a job last September. (AP Photo/Sharon Gaietto)

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More dads are at home – by choice

  • Article by: Brigid Schulte
  • Washington Post
  • June 5, 2014 - 9:57 PM

The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past 25 years, reaching a peak of 2.2 million in 2010 before dipping slightly to 2 million, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. And although the Great Recession contributed to a sharp uptick, by far the fastest growing segment of at-home dads say they’re home taking care of the kids because they want to be.

In 1989, only 5 percent of the 1.1 million at-home fathers said they were home to be primary caregivers. That share has increased fourfold now to 21 percent, a sign not only of the power of economics in reshaping traditional family structures, but of shifting gender norms.

“The assumption that a lot of people make is that the number of stay-at-home dads went up because of the recession. And while that’s absolutely true, even if you take out that trend altogether, the fact is, the number has been going up over time, regardless. And the biggest increase is in the share of fathers who want to stay home to take care of kids,” said Gretchen Living­ston, author of the new report. “That’s very striking.”

At the same time, the share of fathers home because they themselves are ill or disabled has dropped from more than half of all at-home fathers in 1989 to about one-third. The share of fathers at home with kids because they’re in school, retired or for other reasons has dropped slightly in the past 25 years, from 25 to 22 percent.

About half of all at-home fathers are white, 20 percent Hispanic and 16 percent African-American, according to the report. Livingston also found that at-home fathers tend to be quite a bit older, poorer and have less education than their working father counterparts. And, unlike trends with at-home mothers, where a recent Pew Research report found a disproportionate share of foreign-born mothers stay home, at-home dads are fairly evenly distributed between immigrant and U.S.-born.

While the number of at-home fathers has been on the rise, the actual number is in dispute, in part, Livingston said, because there just isn’t a lot of information collected about dads not at work. Livingston used the Current Population Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and included fathers ages 18 to 69 who reported living with at least one child younger than 18 who has not worked for pay in the prior year.

The Census Bureau limits the definition of at-home fathers to those living with children younger than 15 who are home as primary caretakers. That’s the fastest growing segment of at-home fathers and now stands at around 214,000. Some at-home father groups say the number could be as high as 7 million, because they also include the number of fathers who say they are primary caretakers, but may work part-time out of the home.

“As with dad data in general, there just isn’t a whole lot of information out there,” Living­ston said. “For so long, the thinking has been, ‘Dads go to work, that’s what they do, so that’s how we’ll study them.’ But maybe as we see more dads as caregivers and that becomes more normal, maybe we’ll move toward more research that does look at all that dads do.”

The handful of researchers who study fathers say that the dearth of information available on fathers outside their roles as primary breadwinners extends to science as well. It was only in the past few years that scientists found that men, like women, have hormonal and neurological changes once they become parents. Fathers, too, produce prolactin, the hormone associated with producing breast milk, their testosterone levels drop and their production of the bonding hormone, oxytocin, rises.

Although the Pew Research report notes that at-home fathers still face stigma, and are not as rewarded for caretaking as are mothers, at-home fathers like Mike Stilwell, co-founder of the National At-Home Dad Network, say that things have changed.

When Stilwell, who lives in Fairfax County, Va., began staying home to care for his three children more than a decade ago, fathers taking their children to the parks in the middle of the day was an oddity. One such at-home dad in Montgomery County, Md., was approached by some mothers and asked why he wasn’t at work, Stilwell said. Not satisfied with his answer that he was an at-home dad, they called the police.

“That was pretty shocking,” he said. “The more and more dads taking care of kids becomes acceptable to people, and the more they see how natural it is for a father to do it, I think it’s going to keep getting better. I just wish I’d done it earlier.”





 

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