Most stay-at-home dads now actually want to stay at home

Like father, like daughter.
Like father, like daughter.
Image: Unsplash/Caroline Hernandez
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There has been a steady rise in the ranks of stay-at-home dads in America. Recently, a majority of them say they prefer it to working.

Since 1970, the share of stay-at-home dads not looking for work in the US rose from less than 1% to about 4% of all married fathers with a child under 18. It used to be the case that many more stay-at-home dads were actively seeking work, but in the past five years many more fathers are choosing to stay at home with their kids.

To be clear, although their numbers are on the rise, the share of men staying home by choice lags far behind women. While 4% of dads chose to leave the workforce and stay at home in 2016, defined as a dad with a working partner and a child under 18, 28% of mothers did the same.

The share of fathers at home who would rather be at work rises, understandably, during poor labor markets, and recedes during good ones. For example, during the most recent recession, the share of dads at home seeking work spiked. “Being a mommy daddy wasn’t a decision I made,” one father told The Atlantic. “It was, like seemingly everything else in my life, thrust upon me.”

Although some stay-at-home dads would rather be working, since 2012 a clear majority stay home by choice, and many are energized to be caretakers. The National At-Home Dad Network challenges the culture that isolates and mocks stay-at-home dads with regular meetups, support materials, and an annual conference dubbed HomeDadCon. They sell t-shirts and hoodies with the catchphrase, “Dad’s don’t babysit (it’s called ‘parenting’).”

One stay-at-home dad, who runs the funny, meme-heavy Instagram account @TheDadMom with over 16,000 followers, is also trying to de-stigmatize the stay-at-home choice. He documents the ups and downs of raising twins.

Financially speaking, sacrifices are made when one parent doesn’t work. That said, the gap in income between households with stay-at-home dads and stay-at-home moms has largely closed. The share of households with stay-at-home moms has fallen since the 1960s, driven by women’s higher educational attainment, a shrinking gender pay gap, increased workforce participation, and changing gender norms, like more men choosing to stay at home and help raise their kids.