NEW YORK – The number of U.S. fathers home with their kids full-time is down, from a peak 2.2 million in 2010, the official end of the recession, to about 2 million in 2012, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.
The slight decrease in their ranks chiefly was driven by employment gains since the recession eased, the report said. It defines stay-at-home fathers as those not employed for pay at all in the prior year and living with children 17 or younger.
The largest share of at-home dads, 35 percent, said they were home due to illness or disability. Roughly 23 percent said it was mainly because they couldn’t find a job, and 21 percent said it was specifically to care for home or family, the researchers said, relying on census and other government data.
By contrast, 1.1 million men were at-home dads in 1989, the earliest year reliable government figures are available for the sector.
Fathers comprised 16 percent of parents at home full time in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1989, Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher who worked on the report, said.
The 21 percent who cited caring for home and children as the specific reason for being out of the for-pay work force was up from 5 percent in 1989 and 18 percent in 2007, the start of the recession, she said.
While unemployment is a factor overall, Livingston said in a telephone interview from Washington, that the “continuing convergence of gender roles” between moms and dads is key.
“It’s becoming more acceptable for dads to be caregivers, and it’s becoming more acceptable for moms to be responsible for breadwinning,” she said.
Mike Brandfon, 48, of Chicago falls into the laid-off category. He lost his job at a midsize public relations company in December 2009, at a period when he and his wife had been thinking about having kids.
“I was looking for jobs but we just happened to get pregnant with twins at the right time, as far as me being able to stay home with them since I couldn’t find a job,” he said.
After the girls were born in October 2010 and his spouse’s four-month maternity leave ended, her marketing job allowed them to just make ends meet.
“It was quite a shock, to say the least,” he said of remaining out of the for-pay work force.