The Shriver Report – Census Estimate of Stay-at-Home Dads Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

Special Edition

Census Estimate of Stay-at-Home Dads Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

By Cort Ruddy


Credit: Photo—lmnop88a/Flickr

I like numbers. I really do. But there’s one particular number that I’ve got a real problem with. It’s the U.S. Census estimate on the current number of stay-at-home fathers, or SAHDs as they are occasionally called.

I came across the estimate last week, while reading a news story about a particular stay-at-home dad. That the story had “Mr. Mom” in the headline was bad enough, but the real offense here was the article’s final line:

According to the census, the numbers of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past 10 years, but it’s still small: less than 200,000.

Just 200,000? Really? Because I think I know about half of them.

There’s a reason those numbers are so small. Dads are being undercounted. I’m talking to you, Census. Your numbers are way off.

Why are they getting it so wrong? It’s because they are only counting stay-at-home dads who are completely out of the workforce and have no immediate plans to return to the workforce. I think that number is still low, even with those caveats.

“Whatever the definition, everyone reading about this subject should know that there is a “new” prototype of dad out there and a growing kind of family based on partnerships not predetermined roles.” Cort Ruddy

But the Census is missing all the dads out there who are working out of the home, either full or part-time; who are hanging a shingle as a consultant, a freelancer, or a landscaper; who work three nights a week part-time at the restaurant down the street; or any of the dads out there who are actively looking for full-time work. While those dads may be serving as the primary care-giver for their kids or sharing a substantial part of the parenting load, the Census simply does not count them as full-time dads—even though it’s more than a full-time occupation.

And the Census certainly doesn’t count dads from two-income homes who work one shift while their wife or partner works the other, and then spend the rest of their time taking care of the kiddos.

Because of that, the Census, and everyone else who takes that 200,000 number at face value, is missing a cultural shift that is starting to take root—a movement that is being led by the involved fathers out there.

There’s a whole generation of dads putting kids ahead of careers and serving as the go-to-parent on a daily basis. They are making lunches in the mornings and going to swim classes in the afternoon. They’re grocery shopping, getting kids dressed, driving them to school, and making dinner. They’re finding a way with their partner—or as a single parent—to raise kids in this busy and hectic world.

The census doesn’t count most of them.

I know. Because I am one of them. I’m a Work At Home Dad. A WAHD, in some circles. Make your jokes now. (I am not a private detective, so that one joke is out.) And my wife is WAHM. We have four kids. Which is a heck of a lot.

We both squeeze in close to 40 hours of work a week around our kid-raising time—when they are at school, mostly. But we also work at night and in the mornings, on the fringes of our lives, just to make it all happen. When the kids are at school, or asleep, or at an event, one of us can be found working, firing off work-related e-mails, or pacing the halls on a conference call.

We are both full-time, at-home parents. Yet neither one is counted that way.

True SAHDs and SAHMs might object to our inclusion in any definition of SAHD and SAHM. And I can agree with that. But what we are doing, while different, isn’t all that unique these days.

The truth is, there is a change taking place out there. And whether it’s out of economic necessity or evolution, that change is dismantling our notions of what it means to be a dad or a mom, and the roles we all play in the lives of their children.

The Archie Bunker model of the dad who works all the time, then comes home to sit in his Lazy Boy while the wife heats up some chicken pot pie and gets the little tikes ready for bed is a thing of the past. Sure, it still exists in some households. But, in most homes, dads are partaking in every aspect of parenting and homemaking, whether they are staying at home to be the primary childcare-giver, working from home to help carry their share of the load, or just demanding more flexibility from their job so they can be involved in the lives of their children. And moms’ roles are changing too, with many working full- or part-time jobs to help keep the family afloat.

So, Census, I say there must be a better way to count all these parents who are more involved in the lives of their children. The men over at the National At-Home Dad Network have a far more inclusive definition than the U.S. Census does. Their definition is based more on the role a parent plays in raising their kids, and less on whether or not they contribute to the household income.

Whatever the definition, everyone reading about this subject should know that there is a “new” prototype of dad out there and a growing kind of family based on partnerships not predetermined roles. And we are everywhere.

So, the next time you see that 200,000 number affixed to stay-at-home dads, remember it’s just a small fraction of the dads who are taking care of kids, or are sincerely helping in that day-to-day challenge. Because, now more than ever, men in our culture are becoming actively involved in the hands-on part of parenting. And that should count for something.

This piece originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Cort is a writer, husband, and father of four, living in upstate New York. When not busy working from home as a Public Relations consultant, he can be found driving kids to various activities, building forts, making meals, and writing bits for his blog.


Like what you see? Receive updates from directly to your inbox by signing up for our weekly newsletter. Sign up here.

The Good Men Project is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
The Good Men Project is fostering a national discussion centered around modern manhood and the question, “What does it mean to be a good man?” Started in 2009 by Tom Matlack as an anthology and documentary film featuring men’s stories about the defining moments in their lives, it has grown into a community of 21st Century thought leaders around the issue of men’s roles in modern life.
Also from The Good Men Project: