In 2002 already, Fortune Magazine made its cover with this title:
While their fast-track wives go to work, stay-at-home husbands mind the kids. They deserve a trophy for trading places
With the recession a new trend is emerging in western countries: There are more female breadwinners, even in non executive positions, and more and more men that stay at home with children.
A UK poll of more than 1,000 Britons found that 22 per cent of women were now the main or sole earner in their home. A further 25 per cent of women earn the same as their husband or male partner which means they could easily overtake them in the future. 86 per cent of men said they were comfortable with this situation. As a results the number of men staying at home to take care of children raised from 120,000 men in 1994 to 214,000 today.
In the US the statistics also show a significant increase in the number of stay-at-home dads. The economic crisis is heavily affecting families. In most households both parents were working until the husband was laid off or retired, and the wife remained in her job.
So what are the sociocultural impacts of this traditional gender role shift?
1-A life style choice: The decision for dads to stay at home might or might not be for financial reasons. For most fathers, they do not consider they are losing their masculinity by being a dad at home. Most men are enjoying making strong bonds with their kids while taking care of them full-time.
2- Children: Even if the trend is growing, stay-at-home dads remains a large minority and no good research have been conducted on impact of stay-at-home-dads on the children. Despite a lot of controversial arguments, I think fathers can be as nurturing as mothers, so as long as both parents are happy in their roles, then the children are happy. A very good illustration is found in expatriate families. The vast majority of trailing spouses are highly educated women and give up a career to become stay-at-home moms when they move abroad. If the trailing spouse is frustrated and resentful for losing her career, then the expatriation experience can become a big failure for both the parents and the children instead of an enrichment for all.
3-Social integration of stay-at-home dads: With the number of full-time fathers increasing, the acceptance of this role is increasing too. Yet some men struggle to be accepted as stay-at-home dads. Many worry about losing business skills and not being able to return to work force when kids get older. However I think men have some advantages over women in certain parenting roles. For example at school, they are less likely to compete with “alpha” moms for taking a leading role in the parents associations. I also think they will probably get more support from teachers. Dads I know are not socializing with other moms very much but they enjoy developing their home business or doing things they like when kids are at school. Support networks for dads at home are developing rapidly in social media. For marketers, it might be time to develop new services and products specific for stay-at-home dads to be ready when the ratio male/female home parent will move up more significantly.
4-Advantages for working moms: The stay-at-home dad allows the mother to have a better career and salary because she worries less than when the two parents are working. With fathers at home it is possible to reduce tremendously the expenses for a daycare or a nanny. Childless women earn more than working women with kids today, but Fortune magazine reported that, of its “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” over a third had a stay-at-home spouse. More and more executive women are asked to become expatriates with average length of about 3 to 5 years as part of their career development in a global economy. I can see already more male becoming the trailing spouse compared to 10 years ago.
5-Laws and prevalence of stay at home dads : I will just compare Europe with USA as traditionally this role is unacceptable in most South-American countries, India, Muslim Countries, China or South East Asia for example. In Europe most countries give more than 10 paid weeks maternity leave and some give 2 week paid paternity leave. In Sweden they have the highest number of working women and dads who do not take their paternity leave are considered as bad fathers. In Sweden dads and moms have the same rights to take parental leave. In UK 214,000 fathers choose to live as the primary caregivers for their children. In the US there is no mandatory paid maternity or paternity leave but fathers are the primary caregivers for about a quarter of the nation’s 11.2 million preschoolers whose mothers work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In Conclusion: I think that the number of stay at home dads will continue to grow in western countries even after the economy return positive. There is no reason to think that stay-at-home dads are better or worse than stay-at-home moms as long as it is a positive choice. If we are far from having equal salary between female workers and male workers today , the gap will decrease if traditional parenting roles are shifted toward a 50% share of care giving between men and women.