Understanding Work-at-Home Dads in Today's Society

work-at-home dads
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Perhaps, the most obvious difference between the genders of work-at-home parents is in the numbers. It’s a little difficult to pin down the number of work-at-home dads, but there are clearly a lot fewer of them. Pairing professional work arrangement with a person’s parenting status implies, for both men and women, a relationship between the two. And that’s where it becomes difficult.  

The number of men and women who work from home, at least some of the time, is very similar-- 21.1 percent for men versus 23.6 percent for women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Undoubtedly many of them are parents, but how many of them and their reasons for working at home is harder to suss out. There is very little research point toward the number of work-at-home parents.

According to a Pew Research study in 2012, the percent of stay-at-home dads (which does not include those who work from home) increased from 10 percent in 1989 to 16 percent. However, the largest share of them, 35 percent, report the main reason they are at home is because of illness or disability; only 11 percent of women say that is their reason for staying home.

To get a bit of insight into phenomenon of the work-at-home dad, stitch these two trends together: Men and women work at home in roughly equal numbers. There is a vast (though shrinking) imbalance between the number of women and women who stay home with their children, 10.4 million women compared to 2 million men, according to Pew.

The sheer numbers are one of the most obvious differences between the sexes when it comes to being a work-at-home parent.

Yet, there are similarities too, so let’s start there.

How Work-at-Home Dads and Moms Are Alike

Moms and dads are alike when it comes to working at home in that they are all different. To be a bit more precise, work-at-home parents choose this lifestyle for a variety of reasons and the way it takes form in their lives is as unique as every individual family.

There are parents in corporate jobs who telecommute either full- or part-time, parents who own home businesses, freelancing parents, parents who work part-time at home and part-time in the office, etc.

And as for how they embarked on this journey, the reasons are just as diverse. There are parents who made a conscious decision to stay home with their children but found that working from home added income and enjoyment to their lives. Some moms and dads stayed home for other reasons, such as an injury or unemployment, and working at home evolved from there. And then are those who found that they could telecommute their existing job and took that opportunity.

And certainly men and women who work at home have many of the same challenges when it comes to keeping distractions at bay, creating a productive work environment, and finding the right amount of childcare.

How They Are Different

However, the way those and other challenges play out can be different for fathers in part because there are so many fewer dads working at home compared to moms. But also, different societal attitudes about men’s and women’s roles at home and at work play a role.

Men have an uphill battle when it comes to how they are viewed as at-home caregivers.

When YouGov interviewed 1,000 US adults in 2015, it found (with a margin of error of 4.1 percent) that given the choice of a mother staying home with the kids versus a father, 54 percent said it doesn’t matter which parent stayed home. However, 38 percent thought it was better to have a mother at home and a mere 2 percent thought a father was better.

The attitude of society at large may not be a big factor in the day-to-day, home life of a work-at-home dad. But for some, this attitude could come from his own family members or even his partner. Fathers parent differently than mothers. But different isn’t necessarily wrong, and that needs to be understood by both parents. One benefit of a dad working from home is that it can encourage a more collaborative parenting approach for both parents.

Societal attitudes, however, can affect a dad’s professional life. A report by the Boston College Center for Work & Families concludes: “Issues of social isolation, loss of an adult network, uncertainty about future career plans, and concern about how they will be perceived by future potential employers are of concern to most at-home parents, but men often experience these feelings even more acutely…. Feelings of social isolation and stigma regarding the role of at-home parent are even greater for men than women.”

To some degree this comes back to the numbers of fathers working at home. It can be difficult to find other men who have similar experiences, and men may not be invited into the social networks of at-home moms. Even when men are welcomed, they may find that their interests don’t line up. Dads have to find other ways to fight the isolation that being at home can bring.

Despite the ups and downs of working at home, dads are finding that blending they're personal and professional can be a winning situation for all.