There, he falls on our screen, without being able to braid his little girl’s hair, or understand how the washing machine works, or calm his baby. The underlying message of the pervasive and unhappy father stereotype is as subtle as a hammer: fathers are second-grade caregivers, their value lying elsewhere.
However, the analysis suggests that for a growing number of men, this stereotype is not only outdated, but far from reality. The number of stay-at-home dads – who can, one imagine, have a decent stab at a French braid and know which compartment the fabric softener goes into – has increased by a third since 2019.
One in nine stay-at-home parents is a father, up from one in 14 in 2019, according to analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics. These figures are, of course, only a snapshot and the reality is that women still far outnumber men in the ranks of stay-at-home parents. But the number of stay-at-home moms is, for now, down, down 11% over the past three years.
So what’s going on? In the maelstrom of the pandemic, some have suggested there may be a silver lining sliver in the dark cloud: nothing less than a fundamental shift in parenting roles, which includes, perhaps, fathers considering the full-time caregiving as a possibility. Research has suggested that while women bore the brunt of childcare during lockdown, were less likely to be able to work uninterrupted and were harder hit economically, the time men spent with their children increased. For many men, this may have transformed not only the way they worked, but also the way they viewed their role within the family.
And at least part of this metamorphosis seems to have endured. A study by the charity Fatherhood Institute shows that men spend 18% more on unpaid childcare than in 2015 and 14% more on domestic work. The evolution of working from home has also been remarkable: working fathers spend 37% of their working time at home (compared to 6% in 2014-2015), compared to 27% of working mothers’ time (compared to 6% ).
It’s possible that a forced period at home and many more hours spent with their children have honed the skills of many fathers and may have given some the confidence to take time off from work to become primary caregivers. .
Part of this may be economic: the long-term view shows the number of men (data specifically on fathers only started in 2018) who are inactive for family and household reasons which increases after economic crises , rising in the 1990s and 2010s. We already know that more than 600,000 “missing workers” have been lost to the UK economy since the pandemic.
Experts have speculated that the pandemic has triggered a big resignation due to burnout and a reassessment of priorities. It seems likely that many working parents have found they enjoy spending less time commuting and more time with their children. As one dad said, “If I had been in the office, I don’t think it would have crossed my mind to be a stay-at-home dad.
It may be a data error, but a growing body of research suggests that parenting styles are changing – mothers work more, fathers care more. Why is it important? As recent research on attitudes related to gender roles suggests, these “new fathers” could result in “an exponential growth of gender egalitarianism over generations.” Crossed fingers.