The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled over the past 15 years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re entering an era of equal-opportunity childcare and career development.
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First of all, it’s important to understand that “doubled” doesn’t mean very much, when we’re talking about such small numbers.
“Among all married couples with children under 15, only 0.8 percent include a stay-at-home dad — up from about 0.3 percent in 1994 — compared to 23 percent that include a stay-at-home mom,” writes Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic. “But even those small percentages probably overstate the relative importance of stay-at-home fathers in the greater context of U.S. families. First, we’re living in the age of the single parent. More than half of births to women under 30 happen out of wedlock, and women disproportionately end up taking care of those children.”
Among two-parent families, Weissmann says, the percentage of stay-at-home dads has declined slightly over the past two decades, and women in two-income households still provide nearly twice as many hours of childcare per week as men.
In a recent Time article, research psychologist Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. claims that “stay-at-home dads might never be the new norm.”
The problem isn’t just that men tend to earn more than women, Drexler says, or that paternity leave policies are less generous even than maternity leave policies at most companies, or that men are afraid of backlash either for taking parental leave or stepping out of the workforce to become the primary caregiver.
“All of these issues are intertwined,” Drexler writes. “Women would make more if they didn’t break their earning trajectory by leaving the workforce, or if higher-paying professions were more family-friendly. Men wouldn’t face the often unwritten penalties of extended paternal leaves from their jobs if new fathers stood up en masse and demanded it. Right now, momentum toward that rebalancing is pushing against a century of expectation that began when the Industrial Revolution sent men off to work while women stayed home.”
A world in which parents would feel free (and able) to work outside the home or become stay-at-home parents, in other words, might be a long way off.
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