It is surprising to me how much at-home dads are still misunderstood.
Women are making “breadwinner” kind of money as doctors, lawyers and business executives. Twenty-five percent of wives out earn their husbands while most dads are involved in child care and share in other domestic duties more than ever before. With such trends, it should make sense that some men will become at-home dads and enjoy it.
And yet, many people continue to believe all at-home dads are unhappily unemployed or too lazy to get a good job. They believe at-home dads are barely able to keep it together at home, putting diapers on backwards or washing the whites with a pair of red socks.
A new study released today from the Boston College Center for Work & Family by Brad Harrington, Fred Van Deusen and Iyar Mazar, provides a vivid picture of at-home dads and explains why they are home instead of at work and how they feel about it.
In this, their third study on how fatherhood in the 21st century affects the workplace, the Center performed an in-depth study of at-home dads. I was one of the 31 participants they interviewed. They also surveyed 23 of the participants’ spouses. What they found is nearly identical to what I have experienced as an at-home dad for the past 9 years and that of the hundreds of others I have met in local dads groups, Annual At-Home Dads Conventions (the 17th of which is in Washington D.C. on October 6) and now as President of The National At-Home Dad Network.
But it will shock the rest of America.
In their previous studies on dads, the Center found that working dads wanted to be more involved parents and help out more with household duties. They seemed to have trouble, however, achieving this. Also, the public seemed to question their sincerity wondering “just how legitimate men’s commitments are to actively parenting…” the researchers wrote.
At-home dads, however, are clearly involved parents. While they are small in number compared to working dads or at-home moms, their amazing growth lately caught the attention of Harrington, Van Deusen and Mazar. The number of at-home dads has doubled over the last ten years. The number of dads who are primary caregivers has risen from 26% to 32% of married fathers in the last five years. “While staying home may not be an option for many, men will need to continue to step up their caregiving roles if they are to meet their own and their partners’ expectations of their parenting role,” they wrote. “Therefore it is critical for us to better understand the forces that enable men to embrace their role as caregivers.”
Specifically, the researchers at the Boston College Center for Work & Family wanted to understand why men are becoming at-home dads, how they are faring and what this trend means for the American workforce in the years ahead.
- Most at-home dads CHOOSE to be home. Generally, the reasons are either for pragmatic financial reasons (i.e. wife makes more money) or value-driven reasons (i.e. opposed to daycare). Job loss is NOT a common reason for men to be home with the kids, particularly long-term.
- Feelings of isolation and stigma by society are difficult challenges for at-home dads. Social support networks (such as local dads groups or the annual at-home dads convention) are extremely important to the happiness and success of at-home dads.
- Any dad is capable of being an at-home dad. The researchers found a considerable range of family backgrounds and experience from the at-home dads in their study. They concluded there is no way to predict who might become an at-home dad. This led them to believe there is virtually no limitation on the ability of any father to become a good at-home dad.
- At-home dads enable and facilitate the careers of their working spouses. Many of the wives surveyed in the study said their at-home spouses allow them to be “without the limitations that virtually all other working mothers experience.”
- If an at-home dad is considering re-entering the workforce, he wants a more flexible schedule. The dads who are interested in eventually returning to the workforce (and not all were) wanted a job that offered enough flexibility to allow them to still spend significant time with their children. Men are clearly interested in better work/life balance.
- At-home dads are very good parents. They are not the bumbling, incompetent men society often assumes them to be. In fact, the researchers were surprised at how similar at-home dads are to the image of at-home moms. The dads certainly did it differently, but their commitment to parenting, household duties and supporting their spouse’s career is identical to at-home moms.
After studying at-home dads in-depth, the researchers discovered men are fully capable of being the involved dads their previous studies indicated they want to be when given the right opportunities. There are barriers, mostly financial, that keep many working dads from being as involved as they would like. However, their research on at-home dads reveals more acutely how society’s expectations of men also keep dads from being involved. The at-home dads who have overcome these obstacles give confidence to working dads that they can overcome them too and be more involved parents.
They also discovered that when women have more help at home, they are able to make more gains at work. “As such,” the researchers wrote, “this study may help us differentiate to what degree men’s dominance in the highest echelons of senior management is a ‘gender issue’ vs. the result of having a stay-at-home partner that enables them to focus more time and attention on their careers.”
At-home dads are playing a vital role in the changing dynamic of families, the workplace and the very definition of masculinity. “These men, and others like them,” the study concludes, “are forging a new path for what it means to be a successful father.” As a result, I believe all dads will become more involved parents and many more of them will choose to be at-home dads in the future. Hopefully this study will help reduce the amount of stigma from society and help families realize the importance of the social support for dads so they can be successful and engaged parents.
—Photo of man with remote control and his son courtesy of Shutterstock
We are partnering with Salary.com to ask the question “What’s a Dad Worth?” Check out their interactive polls and surveys as we approach Father’s Day. You can also head to Salary.com’s Dad Salary Wizard to find out how much dads are worth, and even print out a paycheck for yourself or the dads in your life!