Stay-at-Home Dads Double Since 1989 Amid Jobs Struggle

Fathers account for a growing share of stay-at-home parents in the U.S., with almost a quarter of the men reporting they’re at home because they can’t find a job.

Dads represented 16 percent of all parents not working outside the home in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1989, a report released today by the Pew Research Center in Washington shows. There are more than five times as many stay-at-home mothers.

“The share of dads specifically there to care for those at home has been growing steadily across time,” said Gretchen Livingston, the report’s lead author. “We still see a steady increase in this number.”

The report follows a study Pew released two months ago that showed American mothers are reversing a historical trend and increasingly staying home, a change driven by demographic, social and economic forces. The increase in stay-at-home fathers is also related to economic forces, this study found.

The rebound from the worst recession in seven decades has been sluggish, with the gross domestic product falling at a 1 percent annualized rate in 2014’s first quarter. Although the jobless rate fell to 6.3 percent in April -- its lowest level since September 2008 -- that partly reflects a rise in the number of Americans who stopped looking for work.

The number of fathers at home with their children reached a high of 2.2 million in 2010 in the wake of the recession, which ended in June 2009. While the figure fell to 2 million in 2012 as unemployment declined, it was still almost double the 1.1 million stay-at-home dads in 1989, according to the report.

Jobs’ Factor

Twenty-three percent of fathers in 2012 said they were home because they couldn’t find work, down from 32 percent in 2010. Just 6 percent of mothers say they are at home because they can’t find work, the study said.

The analysis, which uses census and survey data, covered men ages 18-69 who live with at least one of their children younger than 18.

As is the case among mothers, stay-at-home fathers are less well-off financially and have lower educational attainment than their working counterparts, the report said. At-home fathers are twice as likely to lack a high school diploma as working fathers -- 22 percent to 10 percent -- and almost half are living in poverty compared with 8 percent who work outside the home.

The largest share of stay-at-home fathers -- 35 percent -- say they are there because of their own illness or disability, the report said. This contrasts with stay-at-home mothers, just 11 percent of whom cited those reasons.

Age Factor

Stay-at-home dads also tend to be older than such mothers, which may partially explain why so many more are ill or disabled. While 43 percent of stay-at-home fathers are 45 years or older, only 21 percent of stay-at-home mothers are in that age group.

About one in five stay-at-home fathers say the main reason they are there is to care for their home or family, representing a fourfold increase from 1989 when only 5 percent of them said that. Among mothers, the number is 73 percent.

Stay-at-home dads get less respect, the study found. About half of Americans said children are better off if their mother is home and doesn’t hold a job, compared with just 8 percent who said that about fathers, according to a 2013 Pew survey.

That finding shows Americans “still very much differentiate between a stay-at-home mom and a stay-at-home dad in terms of the value to children,” Livingston said.

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