June 12, 2014

5 facts about today’s fathers

FT_14.06.11_FathersDay
Credit: Getty Images

As the American family changes, fatherhood is changing in important and sometimes surprising ways. Recent Pew Research Center studies show that fathers who live with their children are taking a more active role in caring for them and helping out around the house. And the ranks of stay-at-home fathers and single fathers have grown significantly in recent decades. At the same time, more and more children are growing up without a father in the home.

The changing role of fathers has introduced new challenges, as dads juggle the competing demands of family and work. Here are some key findings about fathers from recent Pew Research Center reports.

1Fewer dads are their family’s sole breadwinner.

FT_dual-income-households-1960-2012Among married couples with children under age 18, dual income households are now the dominant arrangement (60%). In 1960, only one-in-four of these households had two incomes; 70% had a father who worked and a mother who was at home with the kids.

The public has mixed views about these changes. Most (62%) say that a marriage where the husband and wife both have jobs and both take care of the house and children is preferable to one where the husband works and the wife takes care of the home and family (30%). At the same time, a majority (74%) says having more women in the workplace makes it harder for parents to raise children.

2Dads’ and moms’ roles are converging.

FT_moms-dads-family-rolesAs the share of dual income households has risen, the roles of mothers and fathers have begun to converge.

In 1965, fathers’ time was heavily concentrated in paid work, while mothers spent more of their time on housework or childcare. Over the years, fathers have taken on more housework and childcare duties, and women have increased their time spent in paid work. Significant gaps remain, but there is clearly a more equal distribution of labor between mothers and fathers these days.

3Today’s dads say they spend as much or more time with their kids than their own parents spent with them.

FT_dads-time-with-kidsFor many mothers and fathers, this new normal represents a real break from the past. In a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, 46% of fathers and 52% of mothers said they personally spend more time with their children than their own parents spent with them.

Very few said they spend less time with their children than their parents spent with them. Even so, many fathers feel they’re still not doing enough. Nearly half of all fathers (46%) said they spend too little time with their kids. Only 23% of mothers said the same.

4Work-family balance is a challenge for many working fathers.

FT_dads-work-family-balancePew Research surveys have found that, just like mothers, today’s fathers find it challenging to balance work and family life. Working fathers are as likely as working mothers to say that they would prefer to be home with their children but they need to work because they need the income: 48% of working fathers with children under age 18 say they’d prefer to be home while roughly the same share say, even though it takes them away from their family, they want to keep working.

And among working fathers, 50% told us that it is difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job and their family. This is roughly equal to the share of working mothers who told us they have difficulty balancing work and family.

5For a growing number of children, there is no father in the home.

Politically engaged and polarizedWhile these trends are leading many fathers to play a more active role in their children’s lives, there’s another trend that is having just the opposite effect. A growing share of the nation’s children are living apart from their fathers.

In 2010, 27% of children under age 18 were living apart from their fathers. That’s up from 11% in 1960. Most Americans believe the best thing for a child is to have a father in the home. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 69% of all adults said a child needs a father in the home to grow up happily. Roughly the same share said children need a mother in the home.

Topics: Family Roles, Household and Family Structure, Income, Marriage and Divorce, Parenthood, Work and Employment

  1. Photo of Kim Parker

    is Director of Social Trends Research at the Pew Research Center.

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