Rise of stay-at-home dads as more men quit work and skip college.

Rise of stay-at-home dads as more men quit work and skip college.

The Rise of Stay-at-Home Dads: A Shifting Norm in Changing Times


The number of stay-at-home dads in the US has nearly doubled over the past 30 years. While being a stay-at-home dad is still not widespread, gender norms are shifting. It could be an alternative for American men facing a dour workplace outlook.

Andrew Ebright loves his job. It’s the best thing he’s ever done. For the past 18 months, he’s been working as a stay-at-home dad, taking care of his son. It was a surprising pivot: When he met his now-wife 10 years ago, it was a path he told her he was completely uninterested in.

“I just thought that would be boring and a bad use of my skillset, and it would force me to do a lot of things that I’m not great at,” Ebright, who previously worked as a lawyer, told Insider. Then his son was born. For him, all the clichés about becoming a parent came true.

“I cried tears of joy. I was like a waterfall that week,” he said. “The thought of getting to be with him every day and to help him felt motivating and fantastic, and I’d never felt that sort of passion before to do something.”

Ebright isn’t alone. The number of stay-at-home dads in the US has been on the rise over the past 30 years, with dads making up nearly one-fifth of all stay-at-home parents, an analysis from the Pew Research Center found. It’s a trend often fueled by economic downturns and one that some stay-at-home dads hope will stick around.

“Historically, you can see the spikes happen at any time of economic downturn. A husband may lose his job or something like that and decide to be a stay-at-home dad, but then he chooses to remain a stay-at-home dad,” Shannon Carpenter, a stay-at-home dad for 15 years and the author of “The Ultimate Stay-at-Home Dad,” told Insider. “It’s almost like it makes it socially acceptable because that’s really what you’re fighting.”

As childcare remains financially out of reach for many American families, being a stay-at-home dad becomes an economical solution. Additionally, this could also be a solution to the workplace crisis American men are facing. The Wall Street Journal reports that fewer men have been enrolling in college compared to a significant rise in women, resulting in a widening gap. Men without college degrees are leaving the labor force because their jobs aren’t garnering the social status or earnings they desire.

Richard Reeves, a Brookings Institution scholar, and author of “Of Boys and Men,” theorizes that traditional workplace options for men are shrinking, and there hasn’t been any vision of something to take their place. “As men, we’re not evolving as fast as women in the workforce, right? We don’t have as many options,” Carpenter said. “And that’s starting to change. And you can see the change starts with stay-at-home dads, that that is an option for us to go through.”

How Stay-at-Home Dads are Changing

Over the past 30 years, the number of stay-at-home parents has been on the rise, but the number of stay-at-home moms has essentially stayed flat. “All the increase was basically due to stay-at-home dads. The stay-at-home-dad population almost doubled,” Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew who authored the analysis on stay-at-home dads, told Insider.

At the same time, dads have become more intentional about the stay-at-home role. They are increasingly staying home for the sole purpose of taking care of their families and homes, rather than because they are ill, retiring, or unable to find work. It’s an important distinction that’s helping to change the stigma around parenting and breadwinning.

Caring for families and homes still is not “the major reason” that dads are staying home, “but it’s risen almost eightfold, so to speak,” Fry said, adding: “There’s much less sort of action or change among stay-at-home moms.”

Stay-at-home dads still differ in some key ways from their working counterparts and look different from the moms opting to stay home. Pew found stay-at-home dads were less likely to have a bachelor’s degree than dads in the workforce and more likely to live in poverty. While the educational disparity between men in the workforce and men staying home exists, the percentage of stay-at-home dads with a bachelor’s degree has grown over the last 30 years.

While the big bump in stay-at-home dads is all relative — stay-at-home moms still dwarf their male counterparts when it comes to sheer numbers — it may show how attitudes have changed. “There is a bit of a shift among the nation’s fathers,” Fry said. “Is it huge? No. But there seems to be some evidence that changing gender norms are contributing to the rise in stay-at-home dads.”

‘To Hug My Kids and to Take Care of My Kids is Not a Gender Thing’

For Drew, a stay-at-home father to an almost 2-year-old with another on the way, shifting into the role of stay-at-home dad has been “a completely different existence,” he said. It’s a whole new way of life.

Before he became a full-time stay-at-home dad, Drew — whose last name is withheld over privacy concerns — thought he could run a business while staying home. He envisioned having something to manage, though it quickly became clear that parenting was a full-time job.

“I love the idea of being a stay-at-home dad. But it felt a little scary, I think, to have that be my whole thing,” he said.

He thinks there’s a lot of “cultural baggage” for men to overcome when it comes to taking the plunge to stay at home, and some men are turned off at the thought of not being the primary breadwinner.

Today, Drew really enjoys his work and would recommend it to others. He does occasionally miss his old work and having coworkers, but the trade-off has been a great gig that brings him happiness.

“You never would’ve anticipated how happy potty training the child could make you,” he said.

Carpenter, the longtime stay-at-home dad, feels similarly. His role has meant rewarding, long-term joy.

“You’ll forget about any report at work you ever wrote, and you’ll remember the time that your daughter came to you because she had stomach cramps and wanted to know what to do,” he said.

But Carpenter doesn’t think that the gap between stay-at-home moms and dads will be closed until care is no longer thought of as a feminine trait. That broader shift has to come from both societal expectations and implementation of better maternity and paternity leave, among other things.

“The dishes don’t give a shit if you have a penis. They don’t care. They gotta get done,” Carpenter said. “To hug my kids and to take care of my kids is not a gender thing. It’s a parent thing. Until we see that as more of a masculine role, I think we’ll still see the gaps there.”

In conclusion, the rise of stay-at-home dads is a reflection of changing gender norms and shifting attitudes towards parenting and caregiving. While economic downturns have played a role in this trend, more men are voluntarily choosing to stay at home to take care of their families. This alternative to the traditional workplace is providing an opportunity for men facing a challenging job market. However, for this shift to become more widespread, societal expectations and policies such as better maternity and paternity leave need to be redefined. Stay-at-home dads are challenging the notion that caregiving is solely a feminine trait and proving that being a loving and involved parent is not defined by gender.