A Time of Social Change for Fathers
A stay-at-home father is defined as a father who is the primary caregiver of his children under the age of 18. According to statistics, the number of stay-at-home fathers has risen significantly in the last decade. According to the U.S. Census, 32% of married fathers provide regular care for their children, compared to 26% in 2002. Regular care is defined as a consistent arrangement of at least one day per week. A 2014 Pew Research study estimates the number of stay-at-home fathers in the U.S. at 2 million, double the number reported in 1989. The criteria was based on men aged 18-69 who living with their children who were not employed for pay in the prior year.
According to research, stay-at-home fathers are less likely to have a high school diploma than working fathers. Equally disturbing, 47% of them live at the poverty level, compared to only 8% for working fathers. The number of stay-at-home mothers living at the poverty level is 34%, since many have working spouses. Stay-at-home fathers are also more likely to be disabled than stay-at-home mothers, with statistics at 50% for women and 68% for men.
And so, accurate statistics regarding fathers who choose to stay at home are difficult to obtain because many include unemployed or disabled fathers for whom providing childcare may be a temporary economic necessity rather than a choice. Conversely, the statistics may not count men who were employed full-time outside the home for a portion of the previous year. They also don’t account for fathers who work part time as well as being their children’s primary caregivers.
The Effects of Social Change for Fathers
In one article in which several families with stay-at-home dads were interviewed, some men reported feelings of inferiority, loss of self-esteem, self-respect. This demonstrates the necessity for increasing social awareness of the extreme importance of the task of child-rearing. Stephanie Coontz, a member of the Council on Contemporary Families, believes the number of stay-at-home fathers is much higher than official statistics indicate.
She believes that this growing trend of social change for fathers is due in part to the fact that more women are earning college degrees, and as a result, 28% of women earn more than their husbands. She also believes that men feel
“not just pressure, but the desire to be more involved in family life and child care and housework and cooking. And at the same time, all of the polls are showing that women are now just as likely as men to say that they want to have challenging careers.”
She adds that one of the ways men are being affected is that they are now experiencing
“higher levels of work-family conflict than women are.”
The Slow Rate of Social Change for Fathers
The concept of stay-at-home fathers is still a controversial one. Society has been slow to change the long-held view that women are more suited for caring for children. For example, in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 51% of people surveyed believed that children benefit from their mothers remaining at home. However, only 8% believed children would benefit from their fathers remaining at home to care for them.
One example of society’s resistance to social change for fathers is a 2007 article that reported the results of a study of 6000 families with stay-at-home fathers. The Bristol project, funded by the Government’s Economic and Social Research Council, concluded that boys cared for by their fathers were less prepared for education when they started school. However, at the time of the study, potentially costly policies allowing fathers 26 weeks of paid paternity leave were expected to be approved and implemented.
Expert Opinions on Social Change for Fathers
Other experts, citing other studies, suggest the opposite. Psychologist Ross Parke has conducted many studies on fatherhood, including a study of 390 families in which parents described how they played with their children. He concluded that father’s play was
“characterized by arousal, excitement, and unpredictability”,
whereas mother’s was
“more modulated and less arousing”.
In his opinion, fathers teach their children how to use their bodies and regulate their emotions. Psychologist Daniel Paquette asserts that fathers’ distinct contributions to parenting include helping children be open to the world, take risks, and stand up for themselves.
Statistics also show that boys with quality relationships with their fathers are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior, while girls are more likely to avoid teen-aged pregnancy. A lower incidence of depression is reported by all teens that have a consistent relationship with their fathers, regardless of gender. Rather than research discouraging fathers from staying home with their children, it should be used to demonstrate the necessity for more parenting education—and experience.
Continued social change for fathers will ultimately result in greater mutual understanding and respect between the sexes. It may just result in a greater variety of more flexible and fulfilling roles for everyone, too.