Al Watts, a Dad blogger, wrote today’s Mom — or shall we say Dad — Daily.
Earlier this month the U.S. Census Bureau reported that nearly one-third of married fathers are now the primary caregiver for their children under 15 years old. That’s an increase from 26% in 2002.
In the report, Linda Laughlin, a family demographer with the bureau, hinted that the reason for the increase is the recession, which has hit men at much higher rates than women.
That is not entirely true.
When I became an at-home dad in 2002, I saw very few men picking up kids from pre-school or cruising the grocery store aisles at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. Today, I am not as alone. There are more men pushing strollers in the stores on weekdays, and I have more male colleagues in the pick-up line at school every day.
None of the men I have talked to were laid off. They chose a more active role in childcare either because they were able to make their work schedule flexible enough to allow for it or, like me, their spouses made the more significant contribution to the family’s income.
In other words, regardless of the so-called “mancession,” more and more fathers were already deciding to be primary caregivers.
For those dads who became primary caregivers because of the recession, the story is not so simple, either. In previous recessions, men who lost their jobs continued to look for work because their wives either didn’t work or didn’t have career options that offered enough income to support the entire family.
Today, women make up half of the workforce, according to the Census. They earn 57% of the bachelor’s degrees and 60% of master’s degrees. In dual-income families, 24% of women now out-earn their husbands. More than ever before, a family can remain afloat even if dad loses his job and becomes the primary caregiver.
What also has changed is that many of these men are no longer afraid of the childcare role or its impact on their masculinity. Thirty years ago, most fathers would not have taken the opportunity to be primary childcare providers. A good father back then was synonymous with “breadwinner.” Today’s fathers, according to a study last year by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, believe emotional support is as important as financial support, and most have considered becoming an at-home dad.
Because the trend toward fathers becoming the primary caregiver already was heading upward before the recession, it is impossible to know for sure whether it has had a measurable impact. I believe the recession is playing a part but that it’s not the driving force, as most who have reported on it in the media have assumed.
Al Watts is the President of Daddyshome, Inc. – The National At-Home Dad Network and an at-home dad of four children living in west Omaha. Read him Wednesdays on momaha.com
Al recently was interviewed for an ABC News story on the growing number of at-home dads.