Stay-at-home dads: Still rare but numbers rising

Stay-at-home dads: Still rare but numbers rising

Media Release — 5 April 2018

Around 80,000 Australian families now have a stay-at-home dad at the helm, according to research released today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

While the overall number of stay-at-home fathers remains low, they are estimated to have risen from 68,500 (4.2 per cent) of couple families with children in 2011 to around 80,000 (4.6 per cent) in 2016, based on the latest Census data.

Institute Director, Anne Hollonds said this was around the level found in comparable countries such as the US and Canada.

“These stay-at-home fathers are a diverse group including dads with ill-health, a disability or who are out of work, as well as those choosing to stay home to care for children,” Ms Hollonds said.

“They come to the role for many different reasons and their families are generally not the same as stay-at-home mother families, simply with the main caring role reversed. Compared to mothers at home, stay-at-home dads tend to be older, with older children.”

AIFS Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jennifer Baxter said the research focused on stay-at-home fathers who were not employed, had a spouse or a partner in some employment and children aged under 15.

“The increase in the number of stay-at-home dads from 2011 to 2016 reflected increases in the numbers of fathers that were unemployed or not in the labour force, but they were still far from a homogenous group,” Dr Baxter said.

Compared to other family types, stay-at-home father families:

  • Are more likely to have only one child at home and for that child to be older on average
  • Stay at home fathers are older (43 years-old) on average than fathers in stay at home mother families (38) and fathers in dual-working families (41)
  • 1 in 10 stay at home fathers are students, compared to 1 in 20 fathers who are students in other family types
  • The proportion of stay-at-home dads who are carers or have a disability is higher than in other family types
  • Stay-at-home fathers tend to have lower levels of educational attainment than fathers in dual-working families and those where the mother is at home, but higher education levels than fathers in jobless families
  • A relatively high percentage of stay-at-home fathers have lower levels of educational attainment than their spouse or partner, suggesting parents chose the arrangement because mothers have the greater earning capacity.

The report examined the financial wellbeing of stay-at-home father families using data from the 2011 Census and found these families were more likely to have low household incomes compared to families where the mother stayed at home.

“Fewer than one in ten stay-at-home father families have household incomes in the top range identified here as earning $3,000 or more per week. Not surprisingly, dual working families were much more likely to have these incomes than other families,” Dr Baxter said.

“The lowest household incomes within the stay-at-home father families were when the mother worked part-time and the father was unemployed or not in the labour force. Around half of these families had a household income lower than $1,000 a week, similar to incomes in jobless families.

“By contrast, when fathers had a job but were away from work, household incomes were comparable with those of dual-working families, suggesting fathers were often receiving an income from their job.

“When it came to home ownership, a minority of families (13 per cent) own their homes outright, but this is slightly higher in families of stay-at-home fathers (15 per cent). Home ownership was especially likely if the mother worked part time and may reflect the older ages of parents in these households.

“While the household income in these families was relatively low, it may be that owning their homes allowed fathers to leave employment even without the full time income of the mother.”

Dr Baxter said employment policies can help support stay-at-home fathers by providing opportunities for fathers to take time out of employment, or to make use of flexible work arrangements. 

“Even if such policies do not result in fathers taking an extensive period of time out of employment, or if they result in fathers reducing hours rather than leaving work altogether, they send the signal that it is acceptable for fathers to modify their work arrangements to take a shared role in caregiving,” she said. 

“This is likely to build support for those who do choose stay at home fatherhood and may encourage the uptake of flexible work options by other fathers.

“This is important given the need today for mothers as well as fathers to stay connected to employment, even across the years that child care demands are greatest.”

Read the full research report: Stay-at-home fathers in Australia