More dads than ever before—roughly 550,000 in the past decade and counting—are staying home full-time with their children. Compared with stay-at-home moms, these full-time fathers are older, less educated than their spouses and their households have significantly lower incomes, according to a new study of family structure and work trends to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Family Issues.
About 550,000 men were stay-at-home dads in the past decade. Together they comprised about 3.5% of all married couples with children where at least one spouse had a paid full-time job. That’s about double the number in the 1970s when roughly 280,000 men—about 2% of the total—stayed home with the kids, and the number of full-time caregiving dads is expected to continue to increase, according to an analysis of government data by a research team headed by University of Illinois sociologist Karen Z. Kramer.
These researchers note that only about 22% of all stay-at-home fathers can be classified primarily as “caregivers”—less than 1% of all two-parent households—while the majority is disabled, ill or unable to find work. In the 1970s, the proportion of fathers who chose to stay home to take care of their families stood at only 1% of all at-home fathers with working wives. In contrast, more than 90% of all moms who did not work outside the home were classified as “caregivers,” a proportion that has remained constant across the decades.
“Although SAHF [stay-at-home-father] families represent only a small proportion of two-parent families, we estimate that, on average, more than 1.125 million children lived in SAHF households in any given year between 2000 and 2009,” Kramer wrote in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Family Issues.
Once the norm among two-parent families, the share of stay-at-home mothers fell from about half in the 1970s to a third in the last decade. During that time, the proportion of couples where both spouses work at least 35 hours a week soared from 46.1% to 63.2%.
The research team analyzed data collected since 1976 in the Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They only analyzed data collected from married couples with children where at least one spouse worked at least 35 hours a week. Stay-at-home moms and dads included those who did no work for pay outside the home.
To study such a sparse group, they combined annual data by decade, beginning with 1976-79. (The first reporting period only contained four years of data because earlier CPS surveys “are missing many of the study’s variables of interest,” the authors wrote.)
Compared with stay-at-home moms, homemaker dads are older (on average, 41 years old vs. 37). Stay-at-home-dad families also earned about $11,000 less in the past decade than families where the mother did not work outside the home. About 36% of stay-at-home dads have less education than their wives. In contrast, only 27% of stay-at-home moms had less education than their husbands.
Those findings are broadly consistent with a Pew Research Center study earlier this year that used a slightly different definition of stay-at-home dads. It found, for example, the average age of daddy-track dads was 41, or exactly the same as the average age of stay-at-home dads in the Kramer study. Both studies also found that that these house husbands were slightly older than stay-at-home moms.
Using other data sources, the Pew Center study also found that stay-at-home fathers help out more in housework and child care than do working fathers. They average about 18 hours per week in doing housework and 11 hours in taking care of the kids, the highest levels of all fathers. Their housework and child care hours are longer than their partners’, although the difference is not big. Stay-at-home fathers spend about four hours more per week than their working partners in housework, and about two hours more per week in child care. Yet their leisure time is nearly double that of their partners (43 hours per week vs. 23 hours).
In contrast, when moms stay at home and dads work for pay, the wives average about 26 hours per week in housework and about 20 hours in child care, more than three times as much as what their working partners put into these activities. Stay-at-home mothers have more leisure time than their partners who work for pay, but only by less than four hours per week.