More men opting to be Stay At Home Dads

By Sarah Glenn

It isn’t just a mom’s club around the playground anymore. Sprinkled throughout library story times and mid-week dance classes, it is fairly normal to find the average dad.

“Dads today want to be involved with their children, there’s no doubt about that,” said Al Watts, president of the National At-Home Dad Network.

The number of fathers staying home has nearly doubled in the past quarter century. Today, more than 2 million dads have traded briefcases and cubicles for full-time fatherhood.

In Idaho, between 15 and 20 percent of dads stay at home, according to information from the United States Census Bureau, sorted by the Huffington Post. The states with the lowest percentage of stay-at-home dads were Utah (7 percent), New Jersey (8 percent) and Wyoming (9 percent). The state with the most stay at home dads was South Dakota where 39 percent of fathers are labeled by the Census Bureau as full-time fathers.

It wasn’t that long ago that being a stay at home dad was completely unheard of. In 1970, only six men in the entire country admitted to the Census Bureau that their wives were the bread winners and they were the child-rearers.

So why has America gone from six stay at home dads to more than two million in the past 45 years?

“The numbers are certainly going up and there is a lot of speculation as to why that is,” Watts said. “A big part of our mission is to help society understand why dads are increasingly taking on the role of primary caregiver, how dads navigate that role and how all of this affects families.”

In September, the network partnered with Farm Rich and researchers at Chapman University to study and understand the growing population of stay-at-home dads.

While the results were as rich and varied as the individuals it studied, Watts has discovered several key factors that contribute to the rise of the stay at home dad.

“One of the biggest reasons is that more women are working,” Watts said. “This situation allows men to do what they want to do (be the primary caregiver at home).”

A record 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The share was just 11 percent in 1960.

When asked to describe what “Staying home” meant to them, the main themes in the survey responses indicated that the job was the result of a value decision they made with their spouse and that it was both rewarding and a privilege combined with being stressful and difficult. One respondent explained it as “A choice my wife and I made to give our children as much potential as possible.” Many said it was “how they saw themselves,” like many others in a professional role (i.e., I am a doctor, or minister, teacher or sales person).

An article from the Pew Research Center says that while unemployment rates around the time of the Great Recession contributed to recent increases, the biggest contributor to long-term growth in these “stay-at-home fathers” is the rising number of fathers who are at home primarily to care for their family.

According to the Pew research, roughly a quarter of these stay-at-home fathers (23 percent) report that they are home mainly because they cannot find a job. Nearly as many (21 percent) reported that the main reason they are home is to care for their home or family.

“This represents a fourfold increase from 1989, when only 5 percent of stay-at-home fathers said they were home primarily to care for family,” the Pew research study said.

Fathers today make up 16 percent of the Americans who stay at home full-time to care for children. 

In the National At-Home Dad Network study, many also indicated that it can be a lonely or thankless job.

“I’d say it’s more isolating,” Watts said. “When moms stay at home there is a large community of other stay at home moms. Most organizations cater to moms. I don’t deny that moms have a sense of isolation but it is far harder for dads.”

Overall the data on stay at home dads say the experience is a mixed bag of good and bad: an exciting opportunity that is rewarding, yet filled with moments of isolation and a lack of understanding from those who don’t do it. Or, as one dad in the study put it “a continuum ranging from pure bliss to pure hell.”

“All of us are looking for community. A lot of us interact with a lot of moms on the playground or at the museums or wherever, but that camaraderie that comes from other men who are doing the same kind of role and have the same values that you do is something that is very special,” Watts told NPR in a 2014 interview.

However, that feeling of isolation might be eroding as more men decide to stay home.

The National At-Home Dad Network’s website maintains listings and resources to connect with local groups of other stay at home dads. Also, in the online world the daddy blogger is rising. The National At Home Dad Network maintains a list of almost 40 different blogs where dads can go to gain a sense of camaraderie.

The Idaho Dad blog, run by Phil Corless of northern Idaho, has more than 880 fans on Facebook.

For the full Pew Research Center study, visit this link.

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