Academic journal article Fathering

Is Fatherhood a Full-Time Job? Mixed Methods Insights into Measuring Stay-at-Home Fatherhood

Academic journal article Fathering

Is Fatherhood a Full-Time Job? Mixed Methods Insights into Measuring Stay-at-Home Fatherhood

Article excerpt

Little is known about men who serve as primary caregivers for American families due to a lack of detailed questions on fatherhood and small numbers found in large-scale, nationally representative surveys. This paper moves beyond this limitation using a combination of in-depth interviews with 40 fathers and microdata from the 2005-2007 American Community Survey to critically assess whether the US Census Bureau accurately counts the number of male primary caregivers. Findings suggest that it likely underestimates the number who care full-time, by as many as 1.4 million, by not counting fathers who work part-time, report other reasons for being home and/or have been home less than one year. These results have important implications for how scholars more precisely measure emergent, transitioning forms of fatherhood.

Keywords: full-time fatherhood, male primary caregivers, stay-at-home fathers, Census


Despite a wealth of groundbreaking studies on fathers' increased involvement with children (see, e.g. Gershuny, 2001; O'Brien & Shemilt, 2003; Pleck & Mascaidrelli, 2004; Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean & Hofferth, 2001) and full-time fathers living outside of the United States (Doucet, 2006; O'Brien, 1987; Smith, 1998; Wheelock, 1990), scholars know very little about men who serve as the primary caregivers for US families for three interrelated reasons. First, a scholarly interest on the "stalled revolution" (Hochschild, 1989) and emphasis on men's lack of equal participation in housework and childcare has implicitly fostered an absence of attention to households where men are taking primary responsibility and fathering full-time. Second, the fatherhood literature has noted an overall lack of nuanced questions probing the meaning of fatherhood or the behaviors fathers enact in the home in nationally representative, large-scale social surveys (Marsiglio, Amato, Day & Lamb, 2000). Third, surveys that do ask questions about fathers tend to have fewer nonresident father respondents, with most household

surveys still allowing one household member (in many cases, the mother) to report on the actions of other members. This is especially true for stay-at-home fathers. Besides a numerical count published by the US Census Bureau each spring, there is a large gap in the literature on what it means (in light of one's past, present and future labor force participation and household behaviors) to identify as a "stay-at-home father" in the US and on how many men claim this identity in American families today.

I overcome these limitations by taking a mixed-methods approach to expose the underlying meaning of calling oneself a "stay-at-home father," and further, critically assess the accuracy of the US Census Bureau's numerical count of men who father full-time. First, I draw on in-depth interviews from a sample of 40 fathers (30 full-time caregivers and 10 full-time employed fathers) to understand how men who identify as "stay-at-home fathers" define this social status. I then use this information to evaluate whether these men meet the criteria used to generate the Census count. Next, I employ these qualitative findings to inform a second stage of analysis where I suggest revisions to the Census' measures. In doing so, I re-estimate (using the 2005-2007 American Community Survey sample) how many stay-at-home fathers would be counted if the Census criteria were altered. The outcomes of this empirical investigation have important implications for how we measure emergent, fluid forms of family (see Brown & Manning, 2009), and more specifically, fatherhood, as they respond and adapt to shifts in larger social, cultural and economic forces.


Scholarship on masculinities and fatherhood in America first emerged in the 1970s (Lamb, 1975; Pleck, 1976) and grew rapidly in the mid-1980s to 1990s (Hobson, 2002; Marsiglio et al., 2000). As a result of growth in female labor force participation and the stagnation of male wages in the US during the 1970s, breadwinner-homemaker family forms declined and alternative ones took center stage (Berk, 1985; Gerson, 1993). …

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