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Stay-at-Home Dads Are No Longer in-Vogue, Study Suggests

Stay-at-home dads on the decline
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Back in 2009, the number of stay-at-home dads had spiked to an all-time high.

Of the married couples with kids under 18, mom was more often found to be the breadwinner in 1.79 million of those families, while dad was hanging back to master diaper changes, man the morning carpool and send the kids off with perfectly made PB&J's. At the time, we all not-so-silently declared it was a sign of shifting times—that men were "taking a back seat" when it came to bringing home the bacon. At last, we could return to tapping on the glass ceiling!

But recent data shows that just as we ladies were busy "leaning in" last year, men were busy making career changes, too. By the end of 2013, the number of stay-at-home dads had fallen from 1.79 million to 1.43 million.

Why? Experts are still trying to figure that out. "Rising employment in male-dominated industries have lured some dads out of child care and back into the workforce," Jeffrey Sparshott recently wrote in a Wall Street Journal piece, which supposes that the initial spike really had more to do with the fact that men were hit harder than women back in the 2008 recession.

A University of Illinois study, however, suggests that maybe two things are really at play here. On the one hand, there's the impact of the recession; on the other, it could have something to do with our more relaxed gender expectations. Karen Z. Kramer, an assistant professor of family studies at the university, drew data from the Current Population Survey from 1968 to 2012 and determined that there are two kinds of SAHDs out there—and they look nothing alike.

There's the "caregiving stay-at-home dad," who Kramer notes is wealthier and better educated. On the flip side, so is his wife, who tends to have the capacity to pull in more money each year than her husband did when he was working. Then there are the "unable to work stay-at-home-dads" who tend to have lower education levels, and belong to households with annual incomes somewhere in the neighborhood of $38,960 (as opposed to $76,320 of "caregiving stay-at-home-dad" households).

As for the unemployment rates of recent years, Kramer found that they absolutely affected the probability of the unable-to-work stay-at-home-dad family. But when it comes to their "caregiving SAHD" counterparts, their decision to stay home seemed to be pretty unrelated to the economy or unemployment rates, and more to do with personal decisions.

Are you surprised at all by these findings?

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