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Stay-at-home dads on the rise – increasingly because they want to be

The number of American fathers staying at home with their children has doubled since 1989, and the fastest growing segment of these men are staying home because they've chosen to take care of their kids, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

Two million American fathers stayed at home with their brood in 2012, with dads now making up 16 per cent of parents who remain home with children. Although the recession played a role in the recent surge, Pew found that the "biggest contributor to long-term growth" in stay-at-home dads was a large group of men who simply want to serve as primary caregivers.

"Fully one-fifth (21 per cent) of stay-at-home dads say that they are at home primarily to care for their family; a fourfold increase since 1989 when just 5 per cent of at-home fathers said as much," writes Gretchen Livingston, the author of the report.

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It's "a sign not only of the power of economics in reshaping traditional family structures, but of shifting gender norms," writes The Washington Post's Brigid Schulte, who touched on the demographic in her recent book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.

In Canada in 2011, 12 per cent of fathers stayed home with children while mothers earned money, up from just 1 per cent in 1976, according to Statistics Canada.

The Pew survey, which pulled from American census data, looked at fathers aged 18 to 69 who reported living with at least one child younger than 18, biological, step or adopted. These were dads who had not worked for pay the year prior. This means the number of fathers actually staying at home with children could be much higher, explains Schulte, since men who were primary caretakers but also worked from home part-time weren't included as stay-at-home fathers. (In the census data, men who worked part-time and those who worked from home were grouped under "working fathers," not "stay-at-home fathers.")

Pew's Livingston also pointed to the stigma that men still face when they stay home to nurture their kids. A 2013 Pew survey found 51 per cent of respondents said children are better off if their mother is at home without a job. Just 8 per cent said the same of fathers home without paid employment.

Although the number of American men staying at home because they want to has steadily increased over the decades, more of them are home not by choice: 23 per cent of stay-at-home fathers reported being there because they cannot find a job; 35 per cent were home because of illness or disability. Consider the contrast with stay-at-home mothers: 73 per cent said they were there for the sole purpose of caring for their families or their homes.

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