Stay-at-home dads are scarce, but their numbers are on the rise
Fathers who take on the role of primary carer in couple families are a small but steadily growing group, with a report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies showing around 80,000 Australian families now have a stay-at-home dad at the helm.
While the overall number of stay-at-home fathers remains low, they are estimated to have risen from 68,500 (4.2 per cent) of couple families with children in 2011 to around 80,000 (4.6 per cent) in 2016, based on census figures — by comparison, there are 498,900 families with stay-at-home mothers.
Institute Director Anne Hollonds said this figure was comparable to countries like the US and Canada.
Stay-at-home dads by the numbers
- Stay-at-home dads are more likely to have only one child at home, and that child is likely to be older
- Stay-at-home dads are older (43 years) on average than fathers in stay-at-home mother families (38 years) and fathers in families where both partners work (41 years)
- One in 10 stay-at-home fathers are students
- There are more stay-at-home dads who are carers or have a disability
- Stay-at-home fathers tend to have lower levels of education than fathers in dual-working families but higher education levels than fathers in jobless families
- A relatively high percentage of stay-at-home fathers have lower levels of educational attainment than their spouse or partner, suggesting parents chose the arrangement because mothers have the greater earning capacity
"These stay-at-home fathers are a diverse group including dads with ill-health, a disability or who are out of work, as well as those choosing to stay home to care for children," Ms Hollonds said.
"They come to the role for many different reasons and their families are generally not the same as stay-at-home mother families, simply with the main caring role reversed.
"Compared to mothers at home, stay-at-home dads tend to be older, with older children."
Father-of-two Rhys Allen took time off work to care for his first child, and then decided to become a stay-at-home father after his second child was born.
He said he thinks lots of men miss out on the early part of their children's' lives.
"If it's just convention and tradition that is stopping you, then absolutely consider it because it's the best experience, I think, a guy can have.
"[Stay-at-home fathers are] very privileged to be able to have the little kids around and watch them grow.
"I think, you know, so many guys miss out on that part of the kids' lives."
Stereotypes can make it difficult
Senior research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Dr Jennifer Baxter, said there were many reasons why very few men choose to become primary carers.
"We still do have very strong gender stereotypes around caring that no doubt do make it difficult for some dads," she said.
Dr Baxter also said more families now have both parents in work and need flexibility to help juggle their work and caring responsibilities.
"When we look at research on mums, we know that mums get a lot out of work, not just the income. There's a lot of enjoyment and status and stimulation from work.
"Dads are the same and so we don't necessarily expect to see massive increases in dads taking a really long time out of work to care for children.
"What we would wish to see, is [fathers] taking up more flexible work arrangements, reducing their hours a bit."
Co-director of the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group at the University of Sydney's Business School, Professor Rae Cooper, said gender stereotypes can prevent some men from spending more time at home.
"Whilst we are having some changes in the workforce around the expectations of what we can access in terms of flexibility, unfortunately things are still moving very, very slowly and are not catching up with our attitudes and our hopes and dreams about what we can access at work."
Dr Baxter said employment policies can support families who do want to go down this path by providing opportunities for fathers to take time out of employment or make use of flexible work arrangements.
"Even if such policies do not result in fathers taking an extensive period of time out of employment, or if they result in fathers reducing hours rather than leaving work altogether, they send the signal that it is acceptable for fathers to modify their work arrangements to take a shared role in caregiving," she said.