The proportion of stay-at-home dads in the United States doubled from 2001 to 2011, making 3.4 percent of fathers their families’ primary, full-time caregivers (Boston College Center for Work and Families, 2012).
News outlets have been profiling these fathers, who say they love being there for their kids even though it was hard to transition from the workforce to full-time parenting (NPR, 5/15/13; New York Times, 9/10/12). Some of these fathers–like Lance Somerfeld who started NYC Dads Group (CBS, 5/16/13)–advocate that fathers should become more involved in childcare. Many fathers staying at home say their lifestyle challenges the way a traditional family is perceived.
It’s good to see media addressing gender norms, but there was not a lot of diversity among the interviewees in this small sample of articles. All of the men interviewed had left career jobs and received a higher education when they were younger–one was even a Fulbright scholar (New York Times, 9/10/12). And all seemed to be white, even though stay-at-home dads in general, according to a Pew Research Center study (3/14/13), are “less likely to be white and college educated” than the average father.
The media also continue to glorify affluent workers, treating the extremely privileged as typical examples (FAIR Blog, 7/11/13; Extra!, 8/13). For instance, “stay-at-home dad” Tom Stocky, the product manager of Facebook, went on ABC‘s Good Morning America (7/10/13) to reflect on the low parenting expectations people had for him when he took the four months of paternity leave offered by Facebook so his wife could return to work as a Google executive.
Stocky explained that it was difficult when people made snarky comments to him at the playground about his family’s arrangement; he even switched to a music class with more fathers because he felt awkward. The Facebook executive realized, though, that staying at home was changing gender roles.
While one can’t dismiss any steps companies have taken to allow parents to take care of their new children–still only 13 percent of employers offer paternity leave–taking advantage of such leave does not make you a “stay-at-home dad,” any more than going on vacation makes you a retiree. ABC misrepresented Stocky’s story, because he didn’t stay at home–he returned to his well-paying job at the leading social media website.
(Sara McCloskey is an intern at FAIR.)