Last year, MenCare and Promundo released the State of the World's Fathers report, which was an encouraging reminder of the impact of fathers on their families. When I heard there would be a new report focusing specifically on America's fathers, I was particularly intrigued, especially since my work over the last three years has focused primarily on fatherhood advocacy. After having an opportunity to review the report prior to its release, here are my five biggest takeaways.
1) Fathers can make a difference!
Over the last 30 years, American fathers have increased the time they spend with their children during the workday by 65%! "Multiple studies confirm that men who are in close physical contact with their infant children show changes in body chemistry similar to women’s – hormonal changes that promote or facilitate adult-infant bonding. The bottom line is that, apart from breastfeeding, men can care for children in every way that women can." Children get higher test scores with fathers who do 40% or more of the caregiving. Even the data is promising when it comes to gay and transgender men. "23 percent of gay and transgender men are fathers and 51 percent of LGBT adults either have children or would like to someday." Clearly, when dads step up, children benefit.
2) Parental Leave! Parental Leave! Parental Leave!
The SOAF report spent significant time analyzing the impact of parental leave, which has become an incredibly important cause for me as I know work as Father Focus Lead for The Center for Parental Leave Leadership. The report celebrates California and New York for their parental leave policies and urges the rest of the country to establish their own policies. New York State, by the way, will have two months of leave in 2018 that will increase to three months in 2021. "States that offer up to 16 weeks of paid leave for both fathers and mothers have been able to achieve it via a payroll tax of about 1 percent. They have also seen multiple benefits for women’s wages, women’s participation in the paid work force, and increased equality in the share of caregiving across genders." (This answers the burning question of just how to accomplish a paid leave policy.) The fact remains that when governments institute paid paternity leave, fathers take it. Look at Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and the Netherlands. Nearly 90% of fathers in these countries take paternity leave. It's important to know just what is your employer's parental leave policy. The SOAF report contains The Best and Worst States for Working Dads, which also might help.
3) We have a long way to go.
Although fatherhood in our country is changing dramatically, some aspects of fatherhood look surprisingly similar. In 1977, 74% of American working men polled felt that it was best for his family if the man brought home the bacon while the wife prepared it. Although that percentage dropped to 40% in 2008, that percentage is still high. More data showed that many fathers are still not equal partners in the household. "Women spend an average of 66 minutes minutes per day providing physical care to children, while men spend less than half that amount in households with children under six." 63 percent of mothers still do most of the cooking, while 65 percent do the bulk or all of the cleaning. This is true despite the fact more women are now working outside the home than ever before. Speaking of the workplace, the number of fathers in dual-earner families that complained of work-life conflict increased only 25% from 35% in 1977 to 60% in 2008. Another statistic I was disappointed to see, especially having spent two decades as an educator, was the fact that the "Percentage of kindergarten or pre-kindergarten teaching jobs held by men in 1980: 2 In 2014: 2." Perhaps the most jarring statistic was that 700,000 children are victims of neglect and/or abuse, which is 700,000 too many in my opinion. Some important strides, but the data shows we are still dealing with what are becoming antiquated stereotypes of fatherhood and masculinity. But, there might be light at the end of tunnel. "In short, we are not yet a child-friendly and parent-supportive country. However, as we present in this report, we know what we need to do to become one." Read the report to view its action plan.
4) Stay at Home Dads are real and they are awesome.
More and more fathers are becoming at-home fathers, and more of these SAHD's are doing so for reasons other than a loss of a job. The report even acknowledges that it has become more socially acceptable for fathers to be the primary caregiver. Consider this: "According to census data, the number of stay-at-home dads (SAHD) has risen from just six self-identified fathers in the 1970s to almost two million fathers in 2012." Six! Just six in the 1970's. Finally, it's much harder to stereotype at-home fathers. "Share of stay-at-home fathers who said that they are not working because they are caring for their home and family rather than because they are unable to find work, ill or disabled, in school, or retired, in 1976-1979: 1 in 100,
In 1989: 1 in 20,
In 2012: 1 in 5."
5) Incarcerated fathers is a growing problem.
The SOAF report shared data that was a sobering reminder of just how real and depressing this is. "Due to the legacy of unjust sentencing policies in the U.S., incarceration is the cause for many fathers’ nonresident status. One study estimates that nearly 10 percent of children in the United States who are under the age of 18 have a parent who is either currently incarcerated or who has been incarcerated at some point. In the U.S., 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent, and 92 percent of incarcerated parents are fathers." In addition, of male United States residents born in 2001, 1 in 9 will spend some time in jail. That is a staggering number. 11% of men born in 2001 will spend some time in jail. But, it is an epidemic in the African-American community. Currently 1 in 17 white men are incarcerated. Compare that to 1 in 3 Black males. 33% percent. Overall, there's been a 79% increase in the number of U.S. children with at least one parent in prison since 1991.
I would encourage you to read this fascinating report. It's an interesting synopsis of issues facing all of us whether or not you have children or are a father. Perhaps even more importantly, it is a groundbreaking study of American fatherhood.
Watch this powerful video previewing the SOAF report below.