6 facts about American fathers
As the American family changes, fatherhood is changing in important and sometimes surprising ways. Today, fathers who live with their children are taking a more active role in caring for them and helping out around the house. And the ranks of stay-at-home and single fathers have grown significantly in recent decades. At the same time, more and more children are growing up without a father in the home.
The changing role of fathers has introduced new challenges as dads juggle the competing demands of family and work. Here are some key findings about fathers from Pew Research Center reports:
Fewer dads are their family’s sole breadwinner. Among couples living with their children under age 18, about a fourth are now in families where only the father works and about two-thirds are in dual-earner families. In 1970, almost half were in families where only the dad worked and a similar share were in dual-earner families.
The public has mixed views about these changes. While only a small share of people (18%) agree that women should return to their traditional roles in society, breadwinning is still more often seen as a father’s role than a mother’s. About four-in-ten (41%) say it is extremely important for a father to provide income for his children; just 25% say the same of mothers. And while about three-quarters of the public say having more women in the workplace has made it harder for parents to raise children, a majority (67%) say this has made it easier for families to live comfortably.
Dads’ and moms’ roles are converging. As the share of dual-income households has risen, the roles of mothers and fathers have begun to converge.
In 1965, fathers’ time was heavily concentrated in paid work, while mothers spent more of their time on housework or childcare. Over the years, fathers have taken on more housework and child care duties – they’ve more than doubled time spent doing household chores and nearly tripled time spent with children since 1965.
Meanwhile, women have increased their time spent doing paid work. Significant gaps remain, but there is clearly a more equal distribution of labor between mothers and fathers these days.
Dads see parenting as central to their identity. They are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Some 57% of fathers say as much, compared with 58% of mothers. Most dads seem to appreciate the benefits of parenthood – 54%report that parenting is rewarding all of the time, as do 52% of moms. Some 46% of fathers and 41% of mothers say they find parenting enjoyable all of the time.
Work-family balance is a challenge for many working fathers. Pew Research Center surveys have found that, just like mothers, many of today’s fathers find it challenging to balance work and family life. Fully 52% of working dads say it is very or somewhat difficult to do so – a share slightly lower than the 60% of working mothers who say the same. And about three-in-ten working dads (29%) say they “always feel rushed,” as do 37% of working mothers.
Working fathers are as likely as working mothers to say they would prefer to be home with their children, but that they need to work because they need the income: 48% of working fathers with children under 18 say they’d prefer to be home, while roughly the same share say that, even though it takes them away from their family, they want to keep working.
Many of today’s dads say they spend at least as much time with their kids as their own parents spent with them, but most still feel that is not enough. In a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, 46% of fathers and 52% of mothers said they personally spend more time with their children than their own fathers and mothers spent with them. Very few said they spend less time with their children than their parents spent with them. Even so, many fathers feel they’re still not doing enough, a 2015 survey found. Roughly half (48%) say they spend too little time with their kids. Only 25% of mothers say the same. Dads are also less positive about their own parenting than are moms. Just 39% of fathers say they are doing a “very good job” raising their children, compared with 51% of mothers.
More fathers are staying at home to care for kids. In 2012, 7% of U.S. fathers with children in their household were not working outside the home – that’s roughly 2 million dads. Although stay-at-home dads represent only a small fraction of fathers, their share was up from 4% in 1989.
The reasons they are staying home has changed, too. Much of the increase in stay-at-home fathers can be attributed to more fathers caring for their family. In 2012, 21% of these dads said their main reason for staying home was to care for home or family – four times the share in 1989. Then, more than half (56%) reported being home due to illness or disability. In 2012, only 35% cited illness or disability as their primary reason.
While gender roles are converging more and more, public attitudes toward stay-at-home fathers and stay-at-home mothers still differ. While about half of Americans (51%) think that a child is better off with a mother at home, as opposed to in the workforce, just 8% say a child is better off with a stay-at-home father.
BY KIM PARKER AND GRETCHEN LIVINGSTON