How Stay-At-Home Parenting Has Evolved

Stay-at-home parenting may not have undergone as much of an evolution in the past few decades as most people believe, according to new research.

Pew Research Center recently released a report, based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, that found the percentage of stay-at-home parents is nearly the same–and actually slightly higher–compared to 30 years ago. As of 2016, about 18 percent (11 million) of U.S. parents were not working outside the home, compared to 17 percent in 1989.  That figure has ebbed and flowed over the years, reaching a peak of 20 percent in 2010, which the report notes was likely connected to parents who were forced to stay home after job losses in the wake of the Great Recession.

Economic factors, however, were not deemed to be at play in the rise of stay-at-home dads. The percentage of moms at home dropped slightly during from 1989 to 2016, from 28 percent to 27 percent, but the share of stay-at-home fathers rose from 4 percent to 7 percent during that same timeframe.

“The modest increase is apparent even after excluding those who were home due to unemployment,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, a growing share of stay-at-home fathers say they are home specifically to care for their home or family, suggesting that changing gender roles may be at play.”

That idea comes into sharper focus when generational differences are examined: About 6 percent of millennial dads were stay-at-home parents, compared with 3 percent of Generation X fathers when they were about the same age. In 2000, about 23 percent of Gen X stay-at-home dads reported being home primarily for childcare, compared to 26 percent of millennial dads.

When it comes to demographic profiles of stay-at-home parents, Pew found that both men and women who elect to stay home to care for kids are more likely to have a college degree than those at home for other reasons. Specifically, 25 percent of dads who are home for childcare have a degree, compared to 17 percent of fathers who are home primarily for other reasons; those numbers stand at 29 percent 18 percent, respectively, for mothers. Parents who stayed home to care for kids were also more likely than those home for other reasons to live above the poverty line and to be married to a spouse who works.

Among the HR takeaways in the new report is a clear message about the evolving gender expectations for working parents, an idea that many companies are already recognizing, with beefed-up parental-leave and other work/life programs that are inclusive of fathers and partners. When the next round of U.S. Census data emerges, it will be interesting to see the ongoing shifts–or, in some aspects, the lack thereof–in stay-at-home parenting.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at