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Have Americans’ Attitudes About Stay-at-Home Dads Truly Changed?

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Aug 9, 2022

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What’s your attitude toward stay-at-home dads? Do you view them positively or negatively?

No matter your attitude, you’re undoubtedly aware that more dads than ever have made this choice. Stay-at-home dads reached a record high in 2021.

Historically, Americans have viewed stay-at-home dads ambiguously at best and downright negatively at worst. But if you’ve paid attention to the media lately, you’d think that most Americans have a positive view of dads choosing to take care of the home front while moms or partners take on the role of sole breadwinner. 

But according to a recent study, while Americans’ views have become more positive, they’re conditional. They depend on why dads choose to stay-at-home.

The study reviewed portrayals of stay-at-home dads in 94 articles published in leading newspapers and magazines from 1987 to 2016. The lead researchers concluded that:

…news portrayals of stay-at-home dads have indeed become more positive over time. But the growing support for full-time caregiver fathers is conditional. Dads who lost their jobs because of involuntary unemployment are viewed sympathetically, especially since the Great Recession. But dads who are able to work, but choose to stay home with children instead, are still described negatively. As much as we’d like to think that the gender-bending phenomenon of (slightly) increasing numbers of dads at home is a harbinger of more fundamental gender liberalization, our results suggest that this is not unambiguously the case.”

But what about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, you say?

After all, this analysis included only one of the two most recent economic shocks. The pandemic forced many dads into the home either because they lost their jobs or had to work from home. (For an accounting of the impact of the pandemic on dads, see my blog articles here and here.)

Well. The study extended the period of time through 2021 to consider the impact of the pandemic. Even taking the impact of the pandemic into account, the researchers concluded:

Over the period we studied, staying home became more common among dads—especially after the Great Recession of 2007-9. But the number of dads who reported they were home specifically to take care of children was still very low—less than two percent in 2021. And prior to the pandemic, rates of staying home had begun to go down among dads of younger children, declining almost to pre-Great Recession levels by 2019. These patterns also suggest that the post-recession increase in dads staying home was not a result of long-lasting changes in attitudes and ideologies about gender and work, but rather was a temporary response to economic precarity.”

In other words, the more things change, the more they remain the same. We have a more positive view of stay-at-home dads generally speaking, but that view has changed gradually over the past few decades with little or no impact from recent economic shocks. Moreover, the more positive view is limited to dads who have no other choice than to stay at home.

So, what’s a stay-at-home dad to do and think? I say, “Make the choice that’s right for you and your family. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.” And isn’t that what we want for all dads and families?

Do you serve stay-at-home dads?

If so, what’s been their experience with others’ attitudes toward their choice?

Learn more about the Father Engagement Academy by National Fatherhood Initiative

Topics: responsible fatherhood, stay-at-home dad, Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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