Fathering today is multifaceted, and many now consider it appropriate for fathers to take on the role of stay-at-home caregiver while the mother takes on the breadwinning role. This report provides detailed analysis of Australian data, largely from the census, to provide some information on the number of stay-at-home fathers, their characteristics and the characteristics of their families. The focus is on two-parent families with children aged under 15 years.
Overall, these analyses find that the number of stay-at-home fathers is small, at about 4−5% of two-parent families. This percentage has not grown much in the last two decades but was considerably lower in the 1980s. The number was 80,000 in 2016, up from 68,500 in 2011.
Parents’ labour force status is used to identify stay-at-home fathers as being those who are not employed and have an employed spouse or partner. The analysis shows that this is a very diverse group, and some of these fathers may not, in fact, identify with the stay-at-home father role, rather identifying as being unemployed or students, for example. The increase from 2011 to 2016 included increases in the number of stay-at-home fathers who were unemployed or who were not in the labour force, but no increases in the number who were employed but away from work.
When we look at the demographic characteristics of stay-at-home fathers, some have characteristics in common with dual-working families, while others are more similar to jobless families.
Stay-at-home father families tend to look different to stay-at-home mother families, with the most notable differences being that stay-at-home fathering happens later in life, when fathers and children are older, compared to stay-at-home mothering. It appears that stay-at-home fathers are less common as complete substitutes for stay-at-home mothers, for example swapping roles while children are very young. Of course, this does happen in some families, but the numbers are very small. However, stay-at-home fathering may become an option in more families when family finances are more secure, and mothers have returned to full-time work. For some families, a father’s job loss may precipitate the stay-at-home fathering role, while others may choose to step aside from paid work to take on the parenting duties.
The small number of stay-at-home fathers suggests that, despite changes in attitudes toward involved fathering, and also increased employment participation among mothers, there are factors making this arrangement not workable for many families. This is in part likely to be related to financial constraints on families needing two incomes, but gendered parenting attitudes are also likely to play a part.