June 16, 2016

6 facts about American fathers

Credit: Getty Images

As the American family changes, fatherhood is changing in important and sometimes surprising ways. Today, 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 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 Pew Research Center reports:

1The rise in dual-income familiesFewer dads are their family’s sole breadwinner. Among couples living with their children under age 18, about a fourth are now in families where only the father works and about two-thirds are in dual-earner families. In 1970, almost half were in families where only the dad worked and a similar share were in dual-earner families.

Moms and dads, 1965-2011: roles converge, but gaps remainThe public has mixed views about these changes. While only a small share of people (18%) agree that women should return to their traditional roles in society, breadwinning is still more often seen as a father’s role than a mother’s. About four-in-ten (41%) say it is extremely important for a father to provide income for his children; just 25% say the same of mothers. And while about three-quarters of the public say having more women in the workplace has made it harder for parents to raise children, a majority (67%) say this has made it easier for families to live comfortably.

2Dads’ and moms’ roles are converging. As 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 child care duties – they’ve more than doubled time spent doing household chores and nearly tripled time spent with children since 1965.

Meanwhile, women have increased their time spent doing paid work. Significant gaps remain, but there is clearly a more equal distribution of labor between mothers and fathers these days. 

3Fatherhood a positive experience and central to dads' identityDads see parenting as central to their identity. They are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Some 57% of fathers say as much, compared with 58% of mothers. Most dads seem to appreciate the benefits of parenthood – 54%report that parenting is rewarding all of the time, as do 52% of moms. Some 46% of fathers and 41% of mothers say they find parenting enjoyable all of the time.

4For many working dads, balancing work and family is a challengeWork-family balance is a challenge for many working fathers. Pew Research Center surveys have found that, just like mothers, many of today’s fathers find it challenging to balance work and family life. Fully 52% of working dads say it is very or somewhat difficult to do so – a share slightly lower than the 60% of working mothers who say the same. And about three-in-ten working dads (29%) say they “always feel rushed,” as do 37% of working mothers.

Working fathers are as likely as working mothers to say they would prefer to be home with their children, but that they need to work because they need the income: 48% of working fathers with children under 18 say they’d prefer to be home, while roughly the same share say that, even though it takes them away from their family, they want to keep working.

5Dads spend more time with their kids than in the past, but many say it's not enoughMany of today’s dads say they spend at least as much time with their kids as their own parents spent with them, but most still feel that is not enough. 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 fathers and mothers 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, a 2015 survey found. Roughly half (48%) say they spend too little time with their kids. Only 25% of mothers say the same. Dads are also less positive about their own parenting than are moms. Just 39% of fathers say they are doing a “very good job” raising their children, compared with 51% of mothers. 

6Rising number of stay-at-home dadsMore fathers are staying at home to care for kids. In 2012, 7% of U.S. fathers with children in their household were not working outside the home – that’s roughly 2 million dads. Although stay-at-home dads represent only a small fraction of fathers, their share was up from 4% in 1989.

The reasons they are staying home has changed, too. Much of the increase in stay-at-home fathers can be attributed to more fathers caring for their family. In 2012, 21% of these dads said their main reason for staying home was to care for home or family – four times the share in 1989. Then, more than half (56%) reported being home due to illness or disability. In 2012, only 35% cited illness or disability as their primary reason.

While gender roles are converging more and more, public attitudes toward stay-at-home fathers and stay-at-home mothers still differ. While about half of Americans (51%) think that a child is better off with a mother at home, as opposed to in the workforce, just 8% say a child is better off with a stay-at-home father.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published on June 12, 2014.

Category: 5 Facts

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 Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Gretchen Livingston

    is a senior researcher focusing on fertility and family demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous11 months ago

    Jobs. Dad. School. Sister

  2. Anonymous11 months ago

    Father.s. Day. Dad. Yes.

  3. Anonymous11 months ago

    Parenthood is all about maturity and responsibility.
    Mature adults do not procreate children they don’t want
    or they can not afford to provide for.

  4. Packard Day11 months ago

    Looking back on my own life with a father who was a six day a week private practice physician, I think his greatest contribution to me and my siblings was his role modeling of a steady professional work ethic. He may not have attended all of our athletic events, our music recitals, or took any of us fishing or camping, but he did demonstrate each day of his life what it meant to live, breathe, think, read, and above all practice medicine. In fact, he once told me that he never worked a day in his life once he had graduated from medical school…and I miss him still.

  5. Anonymous12 months ago

    It would be great for the father to spend more time with his children. Going to work and holding your baby for 20 minutes then wanting your video game or go to sleep at 9 just isn’t cool. I say this because being a white female dating a Mexican male all it comes down to is he comes home wants his dinner on the table plays with our daughter 20 to 30 minutes plays his game or watches a movie and goes to sleep wakes up goes to work in the morning. I’ve since her birth have gotten 4 hours a day of sleep at the most leaving 20 hrs to feeding bathing tummy time play time cooking and changing her diaper. It would just be nice if he helped at 3 or 4 in the am sooth her or take a interest in something other than sex or video games.

    1. Ahmad Jenkins12 months ago

      I wish I could spend more time with mine, I mean physically; we live in different states. Traveling is too expensive to spend time with them as much as we all would like. I use video games (especially online games for Playstation 3) to interact with my children outside of visits, and phone calls. In a way I envy you children’s father, he has an opportunity to engage with them everyday. :/

    2. Anonymous11 months ago

      At least your child has you and your hard work. The fact that you describe your relationship with the father as only ‘dating’ might say a lot. It’s unfortunate that he’s not more invested in you and your daughter, but given his apparent view of his role in the home, it sounds like this man is but a child himself.

  6. Anonymous1 year ago

    Thanks Pew Research .The role and responsibilities undertaken by American dad and granddad are finest example of Yoga .Who can be better Teacher of citizenship than dads?

  7. Porter Sykes1 year ago

    It’s a good article with important information. It seems that time has brought a lot of changes to the home. Personally, and I know others may disagree, which is fine, I believe that the traditional home with a father caring for the material needs of the family while the mother stays at home is the best model. As it says above, parents often feel overwhelmed and that they never have enough time. I think both my parents were still pretty busy despite only having one working a job. Having my mom at home has been very beneficial to me. She’s one of my best friends, and so is my dad. I feel that having a parent work at home and care for the children creates the best environment for emotional and spiritual growth in the family with children that learn and love.

    1. Katharine Dickson11 months ago

      Families have higher household income when the mother is the primary breadwinner.

      Fathers should be the ones staying home if at all. pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/29/b…

  8. Gustavo Marin2 years ago

    Great Job (: Really enjoyed your information.

  9. James patterson2 years ago

    i totally agree with this passage, but fathers should really spend more time with their kids

  10. Gerald FitzGerald2 years ago

    Have you studied the reasons why many children are raised by women without a father in the home. This is especially a problem among African-Americans, and a major reason for household poverty and poor school performance by the children. I would like to at least see what percentage of the men who impregnated the mother 1) never lived with the mother after the child was born, 2) did live with the mother and children for a period, but were missing because of a divorce or separation before the children reached age 18. Of those in each group, what percentage of the men who left the mother were unemployed, drug addicts and/alcoholics. We seem to always conclude the household and children do better when both parents are in the home, but don’t look at the problem in depth or get data that might lead to solutions.