Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Fatherhood Indicator: Dads and Recession

It seems fitting that the wilting of industrial capitalism with the Great Recession of 2008 should hasten reintegration of fathers into the American family. After all, it was the rise of industrialism which wrenched dads away from the farm and onto the factory floor. 

Prior to the industrial revolution, many families worked the land together or in family-owned businesses or crafts, with little Suzi, Sven and Seamus spending half the day cracking the books in the one-room prairie schoolhouse and the other half helping out the family business.  Driven – or lured – from the farm to the Big City, fathers had to leave their families to work 10-12 hour shifts in the factory. And for several generations moms stayed home to care for the kids until they grew up and she could enter the workforce. 

Beginning in the 1970s when more and more women entered the workplace, more men began to take on more responsibilities in the home.  We've noted that trend often in this blog – a trend expertly detailed in books such as Jeremy Adam Smith's "The Daddy Shift" and the work of Warren Farrell.  Single-father-headed households with children increased 27% in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Over two-and-a-half million single parents today are single fathers, an increase of 27% from figures in 2000.  And the number of stay-at-home dads is rising with them – a nearly 60% increase between 2003 and 2008.

The Great Recession is accelerating that trend.  A recent report from the PEW Research Center shows that the economic downturn initially had a greater effect on men than women, with males losing more net jobs between December 2007 and May 2011.  The flip side of that tragedy is ... more men spending more time with the kids.

A recent Census Survey of Income and Program Participation from the U.S. Census shows that the number of dads regularly caring for children under age 15 increased to 32 percent in 2010 from 26 percent in 2002. By chance, necessity and choice, Dads have come to realize that their kids -- not just their golf, fishing and drinking buddies -- need them.  And they like their new job.

"If I'm making X and my wife is making X plus 10, who do you want making the money?" asks Patrick Spillman, 42, of New York, the primary caregiver for his 3-year-old daughter.  Concluding his hard-boiled analysis to a reporter from Bloomberg News, Spillman said, "It's a matter of dollars and sense."

For others, it's more than just economics.  About three years ago, Lance Somerfeld, 38, found there were few resources for fathers like him after he decided to say at home with his newborn son. He started the NYC Dads Group and watched it grow into 500 men who share ideas for museum trips, classes, play groups and other child-nurturing activities.  Most of the men weren't laid off. Instead, they have wives who are making more money or are further along in their careers.

"I just see dads wanting to be a part of their kids' lives," Somerfeld declared.

I certainly feel that way. As do a growing number of dads, doing everything they can to make time for their kids.  This is a good thing.  Even if it took a recession of historic proportions to help make it happen.