There has been a lot of media attention lately on stay-at-home dads, most recently The New York Times. There are some, including Elissa Strauss of The Week, who argue the attention stay-at-home dads receive does not correlate to their significance in shaping American families or affecting any real change in the way society or employers view fathers because, “statistically speaking, they barely exist.”
Strauss writes that “SAHDs’ prominence in the media suggests that they are a workable solution to all our unresolved issues with that pesky problem of women who want to work.” She goes on to explain, using the Pew Study on stay-at-home dads (which we have already explained has significant problems) “that means men make up just over 3 percent of all parents whose main job is tend to the children… Compare this to the 73 percent of stay-at-home mothers who told Pew that they are at home specifically to take care of their family.” (NOTE: Her math is off here on the percentage of dads who are stay-at-home parents. For the correct stats, go here.)
Her conclusion is that “Thinking about doting fathers gives us the semblance of change without anything having to actually shift.”
It is certainly true that stay-at-home dads have been in the media a lot lately. It is also true our numbers are less than the number of stay-at-home moms even when you use the broadest definition (our analysis shows dads are as much as 28% of all stay-at-home parents). However, Strauss and others miss the greatest significance of these stories; describing trends on how our society is shifting in gender roles, something that is unique, interesting and, most importantly, will continue.
Take a look at several interesting facts. First, no matter which study you look at, all of them show the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in at least the last 10 years. If you review the numbers, you will also note this is NOT due to a large increase during the recession, but a steady trend that continues to climb. Second, the number of women who earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees has surpassed the number of men who earn those degrees. Third, our study, funded by Farm Rich (and also a study by Boston College Center for Work & Family) found there are two main factors for men becoming stay-at-home dads: the couple valued having a parent at home and the wife made more money or had better career opportunities. Sure, the numbers of stay-at-home dads are still small compared to moms who stay at home, but these macro trends suggest a significant shift in how parents are navigating childcare arrangements.
The other reason the media is giving us a lot of attention is because men who are doing childcare is still seen as a novelty in our culture. For some reason, society thinks families are still the idyllic “Leave it to Beaver” structure and is shocked, SHOCKED, a dad can figure out how to put on a diaper. We are not in love with this glorification either. We’re just dads, parenting, nothing really special. However, we feel it is important to show others that dads are loving, competent caregivers. Not only does it change society’s view on fathers but we believe it inspires all fathers to dig in and become more involved. If he can do it, I can do it!
Stay-at-home dads are not the ONLY “workable solution to all our unresolved issues with that pesky problem of women who want to work,” but we are one of them. The female CEOs of Xerox and Pepsi have husbands who stay-at-home, for example. More than that is, again, in what the trends suggest. More men are WILLING to stay-at-home (21% of all stay-at-home dads today in the Pew Study, compared to only 5% in 1989). Two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that more men would like to stay home if they had the opportunity. More women are earning college degrees and getting better-paying jobs which are allowing more opportunities for men to take on childcare responsibilities. Instead of continuing to work, many more men are jumping at the chance to take on these responsibilities. Media attention of stay-at-home dads gives more men confidence that they too can take on at least some of the childcare responsibilities.
We certainly agree with Strauss’s comment that “the answer is: affordable and reliable child care, decent parental leave policies, and flexible workplaces.” The attention on stay-at-home dads is one of the ways we can get there. We are shaping the future of fatherhood. If you want to see what family structures will be in the future, follow us.
This is why, statistically speaking, we do exist.