“Do you work outside the home?” is a common question asked of women at a cocktail party. “What do you do for a living?” is the common question asked of men at the same cocktail party.
Men are starting to change their definitions of success. Stay at home dads are much more common today than in the past.
The number of fathers who do not work outside the home has risen markedly in recent years, up to 2 million in 2012. 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.
The number of fathers who are at home with their children for any reason has nearly doubled since 1989, when 1.1 million were in this category.2 While most stay-at-home parents aremothers, fathers represent a growing share of all at-home parents – 16% in 2012, up from 10% in 1989. Twenty-one percent of stay at home dads say the main reason they are home is to care for their home or family. This represents a fourfold increase from 1989,.
Still, the largest share of stay-at-home fathers (35%) is at home due to illness or disability. This is in sharp contrast to stay-at-home mothers, most of whom (73%) report that they are home specifically to care for their home or family4; just 11% are home due to their own illness or disability.
A rise in the number of stay-at-home fathers is occurring side by side with another important parenting trend of the past half century: a rising share of fathers who don’t live with their children at all.5 About 16 percent of fathers with young children lived apart from all of their children. This report, however, focuses directly on the vast majority of fatherswith children under the age of 18 who are living with at least one of those children. Whites are significantly more likely than blacks and Hispanics to be living with their children. Fathers with higher levels of education are also more likely than less educated dads to be living with their kids. Also worth noting: mothers are far more likely than fathers to be living with their children.
As with mothers, stay-at-home fathers are less well-off financially and have lower educational attainment than their working counterparts. At-home fathers are twice as likely to lack a high school diploma as working fathers (22% vs. 10%). And almost half (47%) of stay-at-home fathers are living in poverty, compared with 8% of working fathers. This poverty figure is even higher than among stay-at-home mothers (34% of whom are in poverty), and may be due, in part, to the fact that stay-at-home fathers are far less likely to have a working spouse than stay-at-home mothers (50% vs. 68%) and are more likely to be ill or disabled than stay-at-home mothers (35% vs. 11%).
Stay-at-home fathers also tend to be older than stay-at-home mothers, which may partially explain why so many are home due to illness or disability. Just 24% of stay-at-home dads are less than 35 years of age, but 42% of stay-at-home mothers are. And stay-at-home fathers are twice as likely to be 45 years or older (43% are, compared with 21% of stay-at-home mothers).
The public is largely supportive of the idea of mothers staying at home with their children, but they place less value on having a stay-at-home father. In a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, fully 51% of respondents said children are better off if their mother is home and doesn’t hold a job. By comparison, only 8% said children are better off if their father is home and doesn’t work. On the other hand, 34% of adults said children are just as well off if their mother works, while 76% said the same about children with working fathers.
There are many potential reasons why more fathers with young children are at home these days. A 2012 Pew Research Center surveyfound that working fathers with children under age 18 are just as likely as working mothers to say that it is difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job with the responsibilities of their family. In addition, roughly equal shares of working fathers (48%) and mothers (52%) said they would prefer to be at home raising their children, but they need to work because they need the income.