The past decade has seen the emergence of a new twist on the traditional nuclear family: mothers who work full time (like their fathers did), while fathers stay at home and take care of the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting.
And although the Great Recession may have accelerated this trend, studies have shown that the majority of men who engage in full-time parenting have not been forced to do so by difficult economic circumstances, but, rather, have chosen to do so.
3 KEY FINDINGS
- Although still relatively small (compared to the number of stay-at-home moms), the share of men who are full-time, at-home fathers is rapidly growing.
- High male unemployment may have accelerated this trend, but shifting gender roles are playing a greater role in driving this shift.
- While a more robust employment market may slightly reduce the number of stay-at-home dads, the numbers are not likely to return to pre-recession levels.
3 DRIVERS OF STAY-AT-HOME FATHERHOOD
US Census figures show that in just the last decade, the number of American men who have left the workforce entirely in order to raise children has more than doubled, from 81,000 in 2001 to 176,000 in 2012.
The Census, however, relies on a strict definition of stay-at-home dads that includes only those who have working mates and who have been out of the workforce themselves for more than a year — excluding the significant number of men who work freelance or part-time jobs while serving as their children’s primary childcare providers.
Using this broader definition, most estimates place the number of stay-at-home fathers at more than 2 million — a number that has quadrupled since 1986. While this number is still less than half of the number of stay-at-home mothers (5.6 million), it is growing rapidly.
Indeed, some researchers suggest that households consisting of one or more children and both parents, one of whom is a stay-at-home dad, is now the fastest-growing family type in the United States.
A variety of factors is driving the rise in the number of stay-at-home fathers, including changes in the workplace as well as changes in American society as a whole.
1. Rise of women: The rise in women’s achievements and status over the last four decades has made the possibility of stay-at-home fatherhood more feasible, more palatable, and, for many, more practical.
2. Economic drivers: As women have steadily risen in educational achievement and in the workplace, other economic factors have come into play that are helping to increase the number of men who are staying at home to care for their children.
3. Societal drivers: In addition to economic drivers, a number of societal shifts — many of which have gone hand-in-hand with the rise of women — are also driving the increase in the number of stay-at-home dads.
3 BUSINESS IMPLICATIONS
- Although still in its infancy, the profusion of online social networks, thousands of fathering blogs, and online forums by and for at-home dads suggests that these consumers may welcome companies that facilitate contact and sharing that is specifically oriented toward the unique circumstances of their situation. Engaging on social networks for stay-at-home fathers may provide opportunities to both market products and build brand loyalty.
- As gender roles shift and active fathering becomes more prominent, it will be critical to understand how patterns within the home are affected. Will some aspects of child-rearing (e.g., decisions about healthcare) remain the purview of mothers even in families with stay-at-home dads? What household management duties will women breadwinners want to hold on to even if their husbands are willing to do them? Understanding the answers to these kinds of questions will give brands attractive touchpoints they can use to connect with women who may have been key customers in the past — but now have stay-at-home spouses.
- Regardless of whether they consciously choose to become stay-at-home dads or resort to this strategy due to layoffs or prolonged unemployment, fathers who become their children’s primary caretaker are investing in domestic skills associated with motherhood that have traditionally been undervalued. Companies — especially those that offer products and services directed to parents of young children — that demonstrate that they value parenting regardless of gender will likely find a large group of consumers who appreciate this message.