Meet America’s New Active Dads

BlogMar 11 2013

Dads in America are spending more time with their children and more time doing house work than ever before, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center released last week. A few weeks ago a New York Times article reported on the growing number of stay-at-home Dads and even an active group of Daddy bloggers. What’s going on in America’s households, and what does it mean for our views of the traditional definition of fatherhood?

For decades, the United States has seen an evolution of the meaning of fatherhood and in the roles that fathers play in the lives of their children. Traditional definitions of fatherhood tend to focus on men’s ability to support their families financially, whereas contemporary expectations include men’s direct involvement in the physical and emotional care of their children.  Families have also experienced changes in how men and women allocate their time spent at work and at home.  Recent demographic, social and economic changes have contributed to the growing diversity and complexity of families, with important implications for fathers.  Here are a few key facts to help illustrate these trends:

  • According to the Pew report, fathers have nearly tripled the time they spend with their children (from 2.5 hours per week in 1965 to 7.3 hours today). After a slight decline in the 1970s, mothers’ time with children has also increased, and today’s mothers spend more time with their children than mothers did in the 1960s.
  • Men are spending more time doing housework than they did in the 1960s, while women have cut back their hours in this area, reported Pew. Men’s housework time has doubled from four hours per week in 1965 to about nine hours per week in 2011. Women, meanwhile, have cut their housework time almost in half, from about 28 hours per week to 15 hours per week during the same period.
  • The number of “stay-at-home” fathers more than doubled between 1994 and 2010 according to the Census Bureau definition, which tracks married, full-time stay-at-home fathers.  An article by Researcher Beth Latshaw notes that the number of stay-at-home fathers is likely to be much larger if the definition used by the Census Bureau included additional groups of fathers, including single fathers, gay fathers, cohabiting fathers, and fathers that are looking for work or work some hours, even if they are a primary caregiver.[1]
  • Among married fathers with a wife in the workforce, 32 percent were a regular source of care for their children under age 15 in 2010, up from 26 percent in 2002, according to Census data.  Among these fathers with preschool-age children, one in five fathers was the primary caregiver, meaning their child spent more time in their care than any other type of arrangement.
  • According to 2010 Census data, single-father families grew from 393,000 to about 2 million. More recently, the rate of growth in single-father families has surpassed that of single mother families, which may even have plateaued.[2]

While there is considerable variation among resident fathers and their role in the house and with children, it is clear that fatherhood in America is much more diverse and complex than ever. The changing role of fathers has generated research, media coverage, and even greater attention from advertisers. Consumer marketing companies are studying these trends and increasing efforts to target fathers as consumers who are making decisions about the products that their families are buying. Over time researchers will seek to fully understand who these fathers are, how many are there, what their motivations are, how they spend their time with children, how fathers’ involvement with children differs from mothers’ involvement, and how their increased involvement in family and child care may affect couple relationships, parental stress and well-being, and child well-being.

[1] Latshaw, Beth A. 2011. Is fatherhood a full-time job? Mixed methods insights into measuring stay-at-home fatherhood. Fathering 9, (2): 125-149.

[2] Hofferth, S.L., Pleck, J.H., Goldscheider, F., Curtin, S., & Hrapczynski, K. (2012). Family structure and men’s motivation for parenthood in the United States.  In N.J. Cabrera and C.S. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds), Handbook of Father Involvement, Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Second Edition.  Routledge Academic.