Reader Query: academic women and stay-at-home dads?

A reader writes:

[I’m looking] for any type of information on whether academic women are more or less likely to have families with a stay-at-home dad. I’m curious because so few of the women I know in academia seem to find the idea appealing, yet so many of the women I know in business positions find the idea (and the practice) very appealing.

11 thoughts on “Reader Query: academic women and stay-at-home dads?

  1. I don’t know of any research, but I might guess that women in business are making a lot more money than women in academia, and that that itself makes it more attractive to have a partner not employed outside the home for women in business than for women in academia. (I assume the same is the case for men.) Doubtlessly there are other reasons, too, but I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a very big one.

  2. Yes, Matt is right, and even if there are other things at work, that seems completely sufficient to explain the gap!

  3. Another obvious point is that even very busy academics get to spend a lot of time at home anyhow.

  4. The first two years I was teaching my husband stayed home with our baby, who was 8 months which I got my first job. I found the idea of having him as a stay-at-home dad VERY appealing, and I would have preferred that if he were amenable. But he hated it.

  5. I’m an academic with a partner who is a stay-at-home dad, and he’s been so since our daughter was born (she’s now nearly 6). It would be much more difficult to afford it if we lived in a more expensive part of the country (UK). But I suspect that the reasons why it’s rare are not just financial, but that many men just don’t want to be stay-at-home dads, for cultural and psychological reasons. It strikes me as fairly rare across all professions/jobs – so that the people in business (I take it this means well-paid people at senior level working for big companies?) are the minority.

  6. Actually, according to Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, the last they checked 53% of nearly 1,000 fathers indicated that they would be comfortable with being an at-home father “if their spouse had sufficient earnings to allow for it.”

    Summary here:

    When it comes to what “sufficient earnings” are, I am not sure, but I have not seen data suggesting that only very highly paid women have families with at-home (or largely at-home) male parents. You’d think a very high income would make other options (a nanny) available, so that deciding on having an at-home dad is still an interesting choice.

  7. I suspect many women don’t want to be stay at home parents either. I think it might be different in large communal organizations, but it is, I found, very, very difficult to have my main interlocutor a two year old for 8 or 10 hours, much as I did and do love him. Women do seem to vary on this…

  8. JAB — I am very suspicious about statements such as the one you link to. We observe what people really want to do in their behaviour if they really get the opportunity to do what they claim they would like to do, not in what they publicly state when asked a question. On anything to do with gender equality, what people (when interviewed) publicly state is much more egalitarian than what they do in practice. Of course, most men have never had an opportunity to be a stay-at-home dad with a wife earning lots of money, but I doubt that many would find it so appealing once they could actually make that choice. And if they did, perhaps the first few months, but not for years and years. Yes, there are exceptions, but I’ve also seen stay-at-home dad who regretted it (and, just like stay-at-home moms, had a hard time returning to paid labour after a few years out of the labour market).

  9. @Ingrid, sorry to be so slow to respond, but I linked to the study. My question for you would be- if we dismiss research on attitudes- we lose all of the research on changing perceptions on gender roles. Is this what you are asking us to do?

    I know public choice theorists maintain your perspective, but I find that approach to be so unhelpful when it comes to the actual obstacles people face- such as the attitude that “men would not find staying at home appealing” (btw, they report that they do, and that they are staying home to care for children- in the past they used another explanation even if they were the ones doing primary childcare).

    I know a number of stay-at-home dads but they relish the role. I don’t think we could possibly know how many would do the same while we maintain the expectation that they would not. It is the fastest growing change in our family structures, but an obstacle to that change, I’d humbly submit- are attitudes about how inappropriate or unwelcome that work is for men.

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