By Kim Parker and Gretchen Livingston
Fatherhood in America is changing in important and sometimes surprising ways. Today, fathers who live with their children are taking a more active role in caring for them and helping out around the house. And the ranks of stay-at-home and single fathers have grown significantly in recent decades. At the same time, more and more children are growing up without a father in the home.
The changing role of fathers has introduced new challenges, as dads juggle the competing demands of family and work.
Dads see parenting as central to their identity. Dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Some 57% of fathers say this, compared with 58% of mothers. Most dads seem to appreciate the benefits of parenthood – 54% report that parenting is rewarding all of the time, as do 52% of moms. Meanwhile, 46% of fathers and 41% of mothers say they find parenting enjoyable all of the time.
Dads are much more involved in child care than they were 50 years ago. In 2015, fathers reported spending, on average, seven hours a week on child care – almost triple the time they provided back in 1965. And fathers put in about nine hours a week on household chores in 2015, up from four hours in 1965. By comparison, mothers spent an average of about 15 hours a week on child care and 18 hours a week on housework in 2015.
While fathers are spending more time with their children, many feel they’re still not doing enough. Roughly half (48%) say they spend too little time with their kids. Only 25% of mothers say the same. Dads are also less positive about their own parenting than are moms. Just 39% of fathers say that they are doing a “very good job” raising their children, compared with 51% of mothers.
It’s become less common for dads to be their family’s sole breadwinner. About a quarter of couples (27%) who live with children younger than 18 are in families where only the father works. This marks a dramatic change from 1970, when almost half of these couples (47%) were in families where only the dad worked. The share of couples living in dual-earner families has risen significantly, and now comprises the majority of two-parent families with children.
The public has mixed views about these changes. While only a small share (18%) of adults say women should return to their traditional roles in society, breadwinning is still more often seen as a father’s role than a mother’s. About four-in-ten (41%) say it is extremely important for a father to provide income for his children; just 25% say the same of mothers. And while about three-quarters of the public says having more women in the workplace has made it harder for parents to raise children, a majority (67%) says this has made it easier for families to live comfortably.
Work-family balance is a challenge for many working fathers. Just like mothers, many of today’s fathers find it challenging to balance work and family life. About half of working dads (52%) say it is very or somewhat difficult to do so, a slightly smaller share than the 60% of working mothers who say the same. And about three-in-ten working dads (29%) say they “always feel rushed,” as do 37% of working mothers.
Working fathers are also about as likely as working mothers to say that they would prefer to be home with their children, but that they need to work because they need the income (48% of dads vs. 52% of moms). Working dads and moms are also equally likely to say that even though it takes them away from their families, they want to keep working (49% vs. 42%).
Despite changing gender roles, many still perceive mothers as better equipped than fathers to care for children. When it comes to caring for a new baby, 53% of Americans say that, breast-feeding aside, mothers do a better job than fathers; only 1% of Americans say fathers do a better job than mothers. Another 45% say mothers and fathers do about equally well.
Among the majority of adults (59%) who say that children with two parents are better off when a parent stays home to tend to the family, 45% say it’s better if that parent is the mother, while just 2% say a child is better off if the father stays home. About half (53%) say it doesn’t matter which parent stays home.
Seven-in-ten adults say it’s equally important for new babies to bond with their mother and their father. About one-fourth (27%) say it’s more important for new babies to bond with their moms, and 2% say it’s more important for new babies to bond with their fathers. Women are slightly more likely to say that it’s important for new babies to bond with both parents (74% vs. 68% of men).
Among those who took time off to care for a new baby in the past two years, fathers took a median of one week off from work for this reason, compared with a median of 11 weeks for mothers. One factor that might contribute to this gender difference: About half of adults (49%) say employers put more pressure on fathers to return to work quickly after the birth or adoption of a new child, while 18% say employers put more pressure on mothers. One-third say employers pressure mothers and fathers about equally.