Number of Stay-at-Home Dads in UK Up 10 Times in 10 Years

A new survey shows that one in seven families in the U.K. has a stay-at-home dad. Read about it here (Daily Mail, 10/25/11).
A new survey shows that one in seven families in the U.K. has a stay-at-home dad.  Read about it here (Daily Mail, 10/25/11).

The survey was conducted by the insurer Aviva of 2,000 British families.  Its results show a changing demographic landscape in which more fathers than ever before list childcare as their major activity.  In fact, the survey indicates that the number of stay-at-home-dads – about 1.4 million – is now 10 times what it was just a decade ago. 

Now, the definition of a stay-at-home parent in the Aviva survey is not the same as the one used by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Here, the Census Bureau calls you a stay-at-home parent only if you’ve earned no money at all in the past 12 months and say your primary activity is caring for children.  So a parent who earned half a day’s wages at any time in the past year, but who took care of his/her children full-time, wouldn’t qualify.

The Aviva survey simply requires that a parent have as his/her main role being the primary caregiver to children.  So a lot of those British dads work and care for their kids, but their caregiving role takes more of their time than does paid work.

The marked change in patterns of work and caregiving between mothers and fathers reflects Britain’s changing society.  The fact that women under 30 earn more than their male peers is one reason.  Others were detailed by Aviva spokesperson Louise Colley.

‘The responsibilities of parents are shifting. There is no longer a norm for who does what in a family relationship.

‘The cost of childcare means many families feel it is not worthwhile for both parents to work, so it”s no surprise to see more men taking up the reins.”

Not surprisingly, couples seem to arrive at the new arrangements individually.  In any given couple, the parent who earns more is likely to do more of the paid work while the lower earner does more of the childcare.  But greater interest on the part of fathers in looking after their children seems to play a role too.

Just over one in four fathers gave up work or cut their hours after their children were born. Some 44 per cent look after their children regularly while their wife or partner is at work.

But the changes aren’t coming without ambivalence on the part of both sexes.  A significant number of stay-at-home dads said they feel “less of a man” because they’re not working and wish they were the ones to be working more for pay.

And while women are now able to be the family breadwinner, a third of mothers feel guilty about going out to work and leaving the children.

Although mothers’ and fathers’ roles are changing, mothers still are a long way from full participation in the workplace.

There was strong evidence that many women would prefer to stay at home themselves if the family economics were different. In the past surveys have repeatedly found that three quarters of working mothers would prefer to stay at home.

This one showed just 15 per cent of mothers said they felt lucky to be able to go out to work while their husband looked after the children.

Back in the 1960s, elite opinion-makers got the idea that women should be free of childcare duties and make their way in the world of paid work.  That made a lot of sense because without that freedom, a woman could find herself dependent on a man who then died, became disabled or with whom she didn’t want to remain married.

We’ve achieved that freedom.  Laws against sex discrimination in education and employment mean that women can and do work and earn equally with men.  But the difference between what women can do and what they want to do is becoming apparent.  My strong belief is that if the realities of global economics weren’t quite so harsh, far fewer women would engage in paid work than do now.  And far fewer men would be primary caregivers to their children.

For better or worse, we’re being dragged into a new age of gender relations, an age in which, as the Aviva survey indicates, more women will be breadwinners and more men will be stay-at-home dads, however that’s defined.  And both sexes will be profoundly uneasy about their new roles.  Both will feel that, for reasons beyond their control, what they’re doing all day every day, is not what they’d prefer to do.  It’s not the first time that ‘Brave New World’ thinking on the part of elites ran afoul of unintended consequences.

Since fathers seem to be getting the childcare bit in their teeth as never before, it’s a good idea to recall just what that may mean when divorce and custody wars get fought out before family court judges.  Many fathers are finding that, regardless of their behavior, regardless of their qualifications as loving, providing, protective parents, they still get the short end of the stick.

As I’ve written before, in 1993, 84.2% of child support orders in the United States had Mom as the custodial parent.  Fourteen years later, that figure stood at 83.6%.  So whatever the changes in parental behavior, family courts either didn’t notice or didn’t care.  It’s now almost 2012 and still, to the everlasting disgrace of family courts nationwide, fathers are kicked to the curb via the standard order that gives custody to Mom, visitation two days out of every two weeks to dad, fails to enforce his visitation and enforces her child support with every imaginable sanction.

I know what you’re thinking.  Surely courts would give primary custody to a stay-at-home dad whose wife did the lion’s share of the earning.  But I’ll post another piece soon that lets readers know just how that can turn out.

For all those SAHDs out there, it’s a cautionary tale.

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