Traditional parental roles are changing
23rd June 2014 · 0 Comments
By Mason Harrison
A new study by the Pew Research Center points to a dramatic shift in the traditional role of fathers in American life as an increasing number of men and women alter their views about what it means to be a breadwinner in a modern economy where both parents are likely to work outside of the home. More than 60 percent of respondents said having a household where each parent is professionally employed is preferable to a home where only a man works outside of the home, which drew favor from just 30 percent of those surveyed. But more than 70 percent of Americans believe the presence of women in the workplace makes it harder for parents to raise children.
The seemingly divergent views among research participants underscore the economic strain on American households that has pushed, and keeps, many women in the professional ranks, while revealing the anxiety many adults feel about supplanting time spent at home with time on the clock. Enter: the new American father. Researchers discovered that as the number of dual-income households increases, the roles of men and women have converged over time, accounting for “a more equal distribution of labor between mothers and fathers,” according to the report.
In 2012, two million American men worked as stay-at-home dads, a number accelerated by the Great Recession, but also buttressed by an increasing trend among fathers to forgo the traditional workforce. “The number of fathers who are at home with their children for any reason has nearly doubled since 1989, when 1.1 million were in this category,” according to the report. “It reached its highest point–2.2 million—in 2010, just after the official end of the recession, which spanned from 2007-2009.” Better employment figures have since reduced the number of at-home dads.
But for a sizable number of fathers who choose to remain at home, the job market continues to play a role in their decision-making. “At-home fathers are twice as likely to lack a high school diploma as working fathers…and almost half of stay-at-home fathers are living in poverty, compared with eight percent of working fathers,” according to the Pew report. Stay-at-home dads are also more likely to be ill or disabled and older than stay-at-home moms, factors that can compound joblessness.
Yet not all fathers who report staying at home are doing so because of a sour economy. Researchers found that while 23 percent of dads report being at home because of dim job prospects, 21 percent, a near equivalent, report becoming stay-at-home fathers because of a desire “to care for their home or family,” according to the Pew report, representing “a fourfold increase from 1989 when only five percent of stay-at-home fathers said they were home primarily to care for a family.”
Stay-at-home dads, and husbands in general, are also picking up a larger share of domestic work. In 1965, according to the research, married men spent an average of 2.5 hours each week on childcare duties and another four hours a week on household chores. But by 2011, American husbands were spending seven hours each week on taking care of children and 10 hours a week on chores. The amount of time men spend advancing their careers has also dropped in the past 50 years from 42 hours spent at work each week in 1965 to 37 hours a week in 2011.
Fathers, and mothers, are also finding more time, despite workplace demands, to spend with their children. In 2012, 46 percent of fathers and 52 percent of mothers said they spend more time with their children than their parents were able to spend with them, while about 30 percent of fathers and mothers reported spending equal amounts of time with their kids as their parents did with them. Still, 46 percent of dads and 23 percent of moms longed for more time with their children, with 50 percent of men and women citing difficulty with juggling family and work obligations.
But despite the progress men are making inside the American family, absentee fatherism continues to be an issue nationwide. Researchers found “more than one-in-four fathers with children 18 or younger now live apart from their children — with 11 percent living apart from some of their children and 16 percent living apart from all of their children.” More than 40 percent of Black fathers live apart from their children versus just over 20 percent of white dads, while 35 percent of Hispanic men live away from their children. Among fathers without high school diplomas, 40 percent do not live with their children, compared to just seven percent of men with children who have college degrees.
Yet, almost all fathers who live with their children take an active role in their day-to-day lives, with Black fathers outpacing their white and Hispanic counterparts, in some cases, by wide margins. In January, a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed upwards of 70 percent of in-home Black dads shared in the daily feeding and bathing of children under age five, while more than 80 percent reported playing with their young children on a daily basis. Among fathers with children ages five to 18, Black dads continued to outrank their counterparts in checking homework, accompanying them to activities, and engaging them about their lives.
In recent years, marketers have taken notice in the trend of dads becoming more involved in the day-to-day lives of their children. An increasing number of domestic ads, once exclusively geared toward women, are featuring more men in the traditional role of parental caretaker, with detergent makers, financial services firms, and even snack food makers joining the list of advertisers targeting dads, something that, along with America’s changing attitudes about the role of fatherhood, could become part of what the report describes as “the new normal.”
This article originally published in the June 23, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.