Study Finds Stay-at-Home Dads Happy:
Many working moms enjoy the career and family support of an at-home spouse. But what about stay-at-home dads? An in-depth research study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family of 31 at-home dads and 23 of their spouses found the dads overwhelmingly satisfied with their decision to leave the workforce to provide child care.
"Most of the fathers said they were happy with their role," lead author Brad Harrington, the center's executive director, said in a media call for the study's June 2012 release. "Virtually all of these fathers seemed to be extremely happy and fulfilled in their role as a stay-at-home dad."
Stay-at-Home Dads Liked Work:
But don't conclude that these men were happy to take a career break because they hated their jobs. The researchers found that, on average, the SAHDs in the study rated their work satisfaction 7.2 on a 10 point scale, and two-thirds had a very strong career identity and orientation before they quit work. Even a majority of those who were laid off consciously chose to stay out of the workforce to care for children.
"What you don't see here is fathers who were disgruntled in their work," Harrington said. To be sure, some of those who lost their jobs involuntarily welcomed the change because of long hours and workloads.
Dads Chose to Stay Home for Finances, Values:
When probing why men decided to take on the stay-at-home dad role, Harrington's team found two major considerations. First, a pragmatic evaluation of the relative earning potential of the man versus the woman in the family. Many men whom he interviewed said their wives made so much more money, it made practical sense to continue the woman's career.
Second, the men cited the value they placed on having a parent home with young children, rather than a paid caregiver if the family could afford to do so. A large majority of the men grew up with a stay-at-home parent, typically their mother.
Stay-at-Home Dads May Be Lonely:
Looking at the challenges, the researchers found at-home fathers' had a challenging transition to full-time home and child care, with some resistance or surprise from friends and family, and sometimes hurtful comments.
A separate study, Harrington said, found that at-home dads have the highest level of loneliness (4.6) compared with at-home moms (3.4), working moms (2.6) and working dads (1.6).
"The loss of the adult network can be difficult," Harrington said. "A surprising number of these guys were members of dads groups. Some were face to face, some were virtual. They seemed to get tremendously positive support."
Working Moms Benefit From SAHDs:
Working moms enjoyed a career boost from having a spouse at home with the children, allowing them to work unexpected hours and giving greater flexibility. "The wives, from a career standpoint, said nothing but good things about what having a stay-at-home husband had done," Harrington said.
He noted that only 3.4 percent of U.S. households include at-home dads, the same percentage of Fortune 500 chief executives who are female. "If women are going to be bolstered and facilitated and supported in their advancement, that percentage ... of fathers who see themselves as the primary caregiver will have to go up," he said.
Previous Dads Research:
The number of at-home fathers has doubled from 2001 to 2011, according to Harrington. In the study, 30 percent of the dads were laid off and 70 percent chose to quit to stay home with children. But even the laid-off dads made a conscious choice to remain out of the workforce.
"These were couples who valued staying home," Harrington said. "I do not think a lot of these guys grew up thinking, 'Oh, I wonder what it will be like to be a stay-at-home dad?' "
In 2010, the Boston College Center for Work & Family conducted a broader but less deep study of fatherhoods. Researchers received 963 respondents from four Fortune 500 companies, a national sample of white collar fathers of whom 97 percent were managers or salaried. In that study, 53 percent agreed with the statement, "if my spouse made enough money for our family to live comfortably, I would feel okay if I didn't work outside the home," Harrington said. "None of the fathers said they seriously considered being a SAHD."