TIME Fatherhood

Most Stay at Home Dads Not There By Choice

Lynn Koenig—Getty Images/Flickr RF

More dads are raising their kids full time, but that's not necessarily good news.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of fathers staying at home with their kids in the last 25 years, but most of them are not doing it voluntarily. More than a third of full-time non-working dads are there because of illness or disability.

While the at-home dad has become a popular cultural figure, the reality is a little different. A new analysis of Census data from the Pew Research Center has found that in 2012, only 7% of all fathers who live with their kids were at home full time. That’s about 2 million dads at home, down from 2.2 million right at the end of the recession in 2010 but up compared to the 4% in 1989.

But only 21% of the dads now at home say their primary reason for staying home is to take care of their family. The biggest share of them, 35%, say their health prevents them from working, and another 23% say they’re not able to find work. The other quarter are in school or retired or home for other reasons such as working for no pay for a family business.

The large numbers of dads who are home unwillingly is reflected in the economic wellbeing of those families. Almost half of all stay at home fathers live below the poverty line. A fifth of them don’t have a high school diploma. A recent Pew study found that a third of stay at home mothers lived in poverty too, but the figure among non-working dads is much higher.

Fathers who’ve voluntarily eschewed a career in favor of raising their kids full time are still nowhere near the norm, but the numbers are growing. They represent 21% of all stay home dads in 2012. In 1989 they were 5%. Even more surprisingly about half of working dads say they would stay at home to look after their kids if they didn’t have to work, which is roughly the same as the number of moms who say that.

But those pioneering dads still face something of an uphill battle for respect. While Pew has found that about half of the population thinks that the ideal family arrangement is to have mom home with their kids, only 8% of Americans feel that way about dads.

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