Kevin Osborn’s Four Futurist Forecasts on The Future of Fatherhood

Eduardo-Merille_Flickr copyMen’s attitudes towards everything from work and education to marriage and raising children have been changing over time. What’s driving these changes in attitude? Are men approaching fatherhood differently than previous generations? How should businesses market to these new dads?

To answer these and other questions, we turn to Kevin Osborn, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Fatherhood — as well as The Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Bringing Up Baby, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler.

And, he’s the father of four — currently ages 25, 23, 21, and 16. Plus, Kevin has been a stay-at-home dad for decades. So clearly, this man has experience on many levels with this topic.

Kevin is also the Head Futurist for Future in Focus and has written extensively on consumer, technology, and business trends throughout the world, including topics about Millennials as parents, new American grandparents, and stay-at-home dads.

Scroll down for his Q&A with Michael Vidikan, president of Future In Focus.


Michael Vidikan: Kevin, so glad we have you here today to talk about the Future of Fatherhood and Happy Father’s Day to you. Let’s jump into the topic. Men’s attitudes and behaviors have been changing over time. Can you talk about some of the drivers behind these changes?

Kevin Osborn: There are really several factors that are behind the changes in how men approach the world. One of the strongest factors is economic—the Great Recession and its lingering after-effects have dramatically transformed men’s attitudes toward both work and family. As a group, men experienced far more devastating effects from the recession than women. Partly as a result, men are no longer embracing—or in many cases, are unable to achieve—the traditional but now passé role of family breadwinner.

In addition, the recession prompted many mothers to either work more than they had or more than they wanted. Today, about half of all moms in the US do work full-time and nearly 40% of working wives in the country are now their household’s primary breadwinner, including an all-time high of 7% who are their family’s sole breadwinner. The jump in working mothers has dramatically transformed the responsibilities of fathers, whether working or not.

Michael Vidikan: That’s quite a reversal. What are some of the social factors are at play here?

KMO-Head Shots 003Kevin Osborn: In terms of social forces, the biggest factor is changes to gender roles. In some ways, this overlaps with the economic changes. In 60% of two-parent households with kids under age 18 in the US, for example, both parents now work. Mothers, including mothers of very young children, are working and/or returning to work much more often than older generations of mothers. Today’s moms, for instance, spend two-and-a-half times as many hours doing paid work as moms did 50 years ago. Partly as a result of this, and even more so as a result of changing attitudes regarding gender responsibilities, men are doing an increasingly larger share of household duties.

Michael Vidikan: So as women are earning as much or more than men, men are increasing their share of household work. Is that true of parenting as well?

Kevin Osborn: Actually yes. From a cultural standpoint, attitudes about parenting are changing, too. Today’s parents—and especially today’s dads—place a very high priority on being actively involved in their children’s lives. Society is much more accepting of fathers who are very involved in their parenting roles. And most fathers want to take a bigger role in childrearing. The Pew Research Center found that US dads were twice as likely as US moms (46% to 23%) to say they don’t spend enough time with their kids.

Parental roles are converging much more today than they have for previous generations of parents. On the part of dads, this means that today’s fathers are spending more time on both childcare and housework than yesterday’s fathers did. In fact, Pew found that today’s dads spend fewer hours on paid work than their fathers and grandfathers did—but spend about two-and-a-half times as many hours on both childcare and housework as fathers did 50 years ago. This doesn’t mean fathers are taking over for mothers. In fact, despite these dramatic changes, mothers today still devote more hours to home and children than fathers—but the gap is narrowing considerably.

Michael Vidikan: It sounds like each progressive generation of men is adopting a different set of values. You’ve written about Millennials as Parents – it’s available now on future in focus dot com – There are actually theories that each generation has its own unique set of values and attitudes. Is that what you’re seeing with the Millennial generation?

Kevin Osborn: Certainly, the role of fatherhood evolves with each passing generation, because every new generation of fathers brings new attitudes and approaches based on their own circumstances: chief among them, the way they themselves were raised—that is, the parenting style of the previous generations of fathers (and mothers, too)—but also the state of the national and global economy at the time when they become adults and when they have children, and the evolution of the role of mothers in their generation.

Many Millennials delayed parenthood until later in their life than earlier generations did. But delayed gratification often makes people value an experience even more when it finally arrives. And that’s the case with Millennial dads. After putting it off for so many years, many are treasuring and savoring fatherhood. A Pew survey found that 52% of Millennials regard being a good parent as one of the most important things in life—nearly twice the 30% who said the same about marriage.

About one-fourth of Millennials—who could soon become the largest parenting generation in US history—are already parents. That’s about 10 million Milllennial dads, with another 30 million who could soon join them in fathering in coming decades.

Michael Vidikan: What we spoke of earlier—more childcare and hands-on parental responsibilities for today’s fathers— does that characterize the new Millennial dads?

Kevin Osborn: Yes. Those living in two-parent households have developed more of a parenting partnership than the gender-based division of responsibilities of earlier generations, even those of the Gen X parents who immediately preceded them. Parenting responsibilities are divided more evenly, although not yet 50/50 for most parents. Men spend about three times as many hours with their kids as fathers did 50 years ago.

Although they still average nearly an hour less a day with their kids than Millennial moms do, today’s young dads are very involved in childcare: they get up in the middle of the night; they change diapers regularly – 80% of men say they do so more often than their wives—although most wives would disagree; they feed babies bottles; they go to school parent meetings; they do shopping and laundry. In fact, shopping may actually be one of the most evenly shared activities among Millennial couples—with 95% of Millennial dads saying they do some grocery shopping.

Just 42% of men today believe that men and women should subscribe to traditional parenting roles (down from 74% of men who believed this in 1977). Millennial men really enjoy being fathers: 82% say that raising children brings them a lot of happiness (although at the same time, 36% say they would go nuts if they had to stay home with their kids every day).

Digital influences also play a huge role in the way they parent—and even the way they see parenting. These Millennial dads grew up and came of age with digital technologies. And as parents, they maintain the same connectivity—through digital technologies, social networking, and the like—that they have always had.

Michael Vidikan: Speaking of technology – can you tell us more about how new fathers are incorporating tech into parenting? What kind of new tech might they incorporate in the future?

Kevin Osborn: Well, of course, they’re incorporating everything digital. And digital has made parenting a shared activity—with dads using digital technology to share photographs, videos, and stories about their children with the friends and family. They’re using social networks to create communities of dads. They’re checking on—or contributing to—the countless daddyblogs available to them. And they’re also making use of apps to manage childcare: learning about milestones, finding babysitters, keeping a baby schedule.

Today’s dads love technology—and love sharing it with their kids. 74% of Millennial dads watch videos with their kids and more than two-thirds (68%) take out a credit card and download content—movies, music, and games—for their kids. Both of these shares are significantly larger than those of Millennial moms.

In the future, tomorrow’s dads will look for new technologies that apply to their expanding caregiving roles: technologies that offer them more information, more capacity to share, more help in managing parenting responsibilities, and more convenience. The Internet of Things will likely be harnessed by tomorrow’s dads to help manage parenting.

Michael Vidikan: That all makes sense. Let me ask you about you about a unique set of dads you’ve written about… the stay-at-home dad. Is this a big market and should companies pay attention to them?

Kevin Osborn: First of all, the number of households with stay-at-home dads is by some accounts the fastest growing family type in the US. There were 176,000 full-time stay-at-home dads in the US in 2013—up from 80,000 a decade earlier. And that’s really a fraction of the actual total, because up to 2 million more dads work freelance or part-time jobs while serving as their children’s primary caregiver. That’s four times as many dads acting as primary caregivers than there were in 1986.

This trend accelerated during and after the Great Recession, but is driven more by societal shifts and changing gender roles than by the economy. These include the fading of the “traditional” American family in which the father was once the sole breadwinner — this kind of family now makes up just 16% of American households; it also includes men’s increasing prioritization of “active” fatherhood — 75% of men consider being a parent very important, compared to just 48% who feel the same about having a successful career; and it also includes the growing societal acceptance of men who choose active fatherhood over career advancement.

Regardless of what’s driving it, more men are choosing to stay at home taking care of their kids. And the arrangement seems to work for the majority of couples: 51% of stay-at-home dads say they’re extremely satisfied with it—and 61% say raising their kids is the best job they could ever have.

Michael Vidikan: A special Happy father’s day to all the stay-at-home dads out there. How different are stay-at-home dads than other dads?

Kevin Osborn: Actually not so different. As we’ve already discussed, most young fathers today place a high value on the time and care they devote to their children. Stay-at-home dads simply have more of an opportunity to engage actively in the caregiving responsibilities that most parents today want.

Yet these stay-at-home dads are in many ways pioneers, exploring new frontiers essentially on their own; even more than other new fathers, they will require the kind of support that can be found in both physical and digital communities—many of which are already being created.

Also, it’s definitely worth noting that Flexible scheduling in workplaces is increasingly important not only to mothers in the workforce, but to fathers, too. Men prefer some voice in determining which hours they work, as well as options like taking a period of paternity leave or using sick days to care for an ailing child or telecommuting. An overwhelming 93% of Millennial dads, for example, favor paternity leave

Michael Vidikan: Very interesting. Companies had better start paying attention to these trends – perhaps changing HR policies and the way they portray dads in the media. What about older men – specifically grandparents – do they act differently towards their grandchildren than they did when they were raising their own children?

Kevin Osborn: Yes. Many, who maintained traditional roles as sole breadwinners when their own children were young, regret “missing out” and are now devoting more time and energy to their grandchildren. They’re more active and involved. In fact, a few years ago Pew found that more grandfathers than grandmothers say they have helped with childcare: 57% to 47%. Grandparents are very active in their grandchildren’s lives. 63%of grandfathers play sports, exercise, or go on outings with their grandchildren. And 43% see spoiling their grandchildren by buying them “too much” as part of their role as grandparents.

In many of their shared experiences with and gifts for their grandchildren, today’s grandparents are likely to emphasize educational value. Multigenerational travel, for example, is surging. This fits well with the boomer consumer value of “authenticity,” which is prompting many grandparents to seek out educational travel and other “genuine” experiences to share with their grandchildren.

One major difference from earlier generations: Many of today’s grandfathers have more money than earlier generations of grandparents did.

Michael Vidikan: Businesses should pay attention to that fact alone right?

Kevin Osborn: Right. Households headed by 55- to 64-year-olds have the highest net worth in the country—an average of $254,000—and own half the nation’s personal financial assets.

And more than half no longer carry a mortgage. They not only have money, they’re spending money, too. Spending by those 55 and older increased faster than any other age group in the first decade of this century. In particular, they like to give money to or spend money on their grandchildren now, when they can really use it, rather than save it as a legacy for the future. Grandparent spending on grandchildren jumped 7.6% per year in the first decade of this century. 96% of US grandparents spent money on their grandchildren in 2012—and 62% provided financial assistance to their grandchildren.

Michael Vidikan: And the digital divide is disappearing too.

Kevin Osborn: While less digitally savvy than their children and grandchildren, four in five boomers are online. Still, less than half of grandparents communicate with their grandchildren through Skype, texting, email, or social media. But they’re catching up with modern communication technologies—and new, younger grandparents are already more versed in technology than the grandparents they’re joining.