It’s 2014, and adherence to traditional gender roles is slowly falling by the wayside. At the same time as more women are choosing careers over kids, a growing number of men are becoming stay-at-home dads. According to a new Pew analysis of U.S. census data, the number of stay-at-home dads has nearly doubled in recent years, from 1.1 million in 1989 to 2 million in 2012. These millions of fathers are helping to break down gender norms, opening the door ever wider for other men and women who want to do what is best for their family instead of what’s expected.
Things get even more interesting when we look at the breakdown of why the number of at-home dads is growing. For one, the poor economy has played a role in the increase: fathers who can’t find jobs are naturally going to stay home with the kids. The trend of stay-at-home dads increased rapidly when the 2008 economic crisis hit, though it fell off a bit after the worst was over. Twenty-three percent of fathers in 2012 reported their reason for staying home as “unable to find work,” compared with 15 percent in 1989. But the number of fathers who are staying home voluntarily to care for their families nearly matches that at 21 percent, a massive increase from 5 percent in 1989. The choice to stay at home with the kids is a significant one: studies show that children with involved fathers fare much better in life.
If you’re into being a working dad or a stay-at-home mom, that’s cool; you do you. People should be able to choose whatever path they want, including one that meets traditional gender expectations. But as any at-home parent will tell you, staying home with the kids is one of the hardest jobs you can get, and it gets even harder when you’re a man, facing a society that questions your manhood or competency. A lot of much-needed media attention has been given to mothers who are pursuing successful careers, which is great. But it’s also important that we talk about the fathers who are at home with the kids. These dads are helping their children win in life, giving mothers more time for their careers, and making great strides in the feminist movement (because in case you didn’t already know, feminism benefits men, too). With Father’s Day coming up, it’s time to celebrate all dads—not least of which those who are striking down gender norms to stay home with their children.
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master’s in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. In addition to the written word, she loves social justice, fashion, philosophy, and travel. Check out more of her work at elysehauser.com.