There is a tale of two fatherhoods in the United States. High-income dads are championed for playing active roles in their children’s lives and they’re getting head-lines, while low-income, many nonresident, dads are often either valued or stigmatized simply by their ability to pay their way. The U.S. is in urgent need of policies and support so that all fathers can realize their roles as fully engaged, fully equal caregivers, argues the first ever report on fatherhood in the U.S.
Fathers in the United States are more involved than ever before, but gender equality, child development, and the wealth of the nation rely on advancing this movement in the years ahead.
There is a fatherhood revolution going on in the United States. Men are doing—and are expected to do—more of the child-care and housework than ever before. This involved fatherhood revolution has the power to advance gender equality, improve childhood development outcomes, and raise the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by several hundred billion dollars. How? By championing women to work outside the home at the same rate as men do. Despite the achievements, the U.S. is not doing enough to support or advance the movement—in part because until now there has never before been a clear or accurate national picture of the state of U.S. fatherhood.
Building on the success of the first State of the World’s Fathers report in 2015, Promundo, a global leader promoting gender justice that was founded 20 years ago in Brazil, worked with a diverse coalition of partners to produce the State of America’s Fathers report, a landmark analysis of fatherhood. The report features never before published data from the Families and Work Institute’s National Study of the Changing Workforce.
As of Father’s Day 2016, the report reveals that the fatherhood revolution is a highly unequal one. A tale of two fathers cuts down socioeconomic lines. At one end of the spectrum, society increasingly encourages upper middle- and upper-income fathers to be highly engaged with their children—with many Fortune 500 companies offering the paid parental leave to back this up. On the other end, low-income dads have the least access to paid leave in the country: 95 percent of low-wage workers do not have the option of taking paid family leave through their employers’ policies for the birth of a child or to care for a seriously ill family member. New data from the report reveals that one aspect which unites across lines is the inability for parents to find work-life balance: the majority of parents (59 percent) who work full time, and nearly three quarters (74 percent) of those that work overtime, feel that they do not spend enough time with their children.
The unprecedented size of the U.S. prison system also causes undue financial difficulties for low-income families. More than 11 percent of U.S. men will go to prison at some point in their lives, and due to racial biases and other factors, more than 60 percent of those in prison are people of color. In total, more than 2.7 million children in the U.S. have a parent who is incarcerated; and 92 percent of incarcerated parents are fathers. As such, harsh sentencing laws (particularly for nonviolent offenses) are harmful for children, in addition to being racially unjust.
In addition, the State of America’s Fathers finds that children in the country are now more likely than ever to live outside of the traditional heterosexual, two-parent household. The decline of marriage, the rise of cohabitation, and divorce as a less stigmatized option means that the “traditional” family is no longer a reality, with as many as 50 percent of children in the U.S. now spending some portion of their childhood years living in single-parent households.
Over the past 30 years, U.S. fathers have increased the time they spend with their children during the workday by nearly a third (65 percent). According to the report’s new data, both men and women are more interested in sharing childcare responsibilities than ever, and a minority of men—less than half (40 percent)—agree that “men should earn money and women should take care of the home and the family.” In addition, despite a pervasive stigma of nonresident fathers as absent fathers, or worse, “deadbeat dads,” research also shows that most nonresident fathers are consistently very active in the lives of their children.
The State of America’s Fathers report reveals that women and men alike are in need of policies and support so that fathers can realize their roles as fully engaged, fully equal caregivers. However, the U.S. is unique among high-income nations in its failure to guarantee paid leave to new parents, and 40 percent of U.S. workers find themselves ineligible for the 12 weeks of unpaid leave offered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For those who are eligible, taking leave that isn’t paid simply isn’t financially possible. Addition-ally, extreme rates of incarceration and high child support demands on low-income fathers underscore a need to reframe the conversation on economically marginalized nonresident fathers’ contributions to their children’s lives.
The State of America’s Fathers outlines key recommendations for action. These include:
- National legislation to provide for paid, equal, and non-transferable leave for mothers and fathers of newborns: noting that even as much as 12 or 16 weeks can generally be paid for by both mothers and fathers through a payroll tax of about one percent.
- To provide the poorest fathers and families with a living wage, to reform the justice system, and to provide additional services that encourage and support their caregiving—including an Earned Income Tax Credit for nonresidential fathers who pay child support.
- It posits that joint physical custody of children after a relationship or marital breakdown should be pursued when it is in the best interest of the child, and in cases where there is no history or threat of violence.
- Building on a foundation of reproductive justice, supportive programs and services, which include comprehensive sexuality education and quality reproductive health services, can support individuals to plan when and how they want to have children.
- Workplaces to value what parents do as caregivers as much as they value their professional achievements; for more men to join the HEAL (health, education, administration, and literacy) professions; and for children to learn the value of caregiving from young ages in order to help accelerate social shifts toward greater acceptance and valuing of caregiving qualities in all genders.
“What our report and our new data show is this: women and men want the policies and the support so that all parents can be full-on, fully engaged, fully equal caregivers, said Gary Barker, International Director and founder of Promundo, the organization that authored the report. “…implementing paid leave is far less costly than often thought; and when implemented alongside income support to low-income fathers and parents, these policies pay for themselves in increased productivity and happier, healthier families. What are we waiting for?”
The State of America’s Fathers was coodinated by Promundo, a global leader in promoting gender justice in partnership with women and girls (www.promundoglobal.org). Its editorial board includes key researchers and influential non-governmental organizations working on engaging fathers in the U.S., with representatives from: Families and Work Institute; the Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being at Columbia University; the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University; the National Partnership for Women & Families; and the University of Maryland. For more information, go to www. men.care.org/soaf, @MenCareGlobal #SOAF.
About the Fatherhood Report
Approximately 80 percent of men in the United States will become biological fathers at some point in their lives, and virtually all men have some connection to children and others in caregiving relationships. Fatherhood today is at the center of a national conver-sation that also touches on gender equality, work-life balance, race, and the question of what it means to be a man. More men than ever are stay-at-home fathers and involved caregivers for their children and more women than ever are in the work-place, balancing caregiving and providing roles with their partners. Engaging men in caregiving and care work is key to achieving women’s empowerment and supporting the well-being and rights of children. Building on the success of the first State of the World’s Fathers report in 2015, Promundo and a diverse coalition of partners launched the first ever State of America’s Fathers just before Father’s Day 2016. For the report, the Families and Work Institute prepared new, never before published data analyses of the 2016 National Study of the Changing Work-force. Conducted approximately every five years, the NSCW provides trend data on Americans’ lives on and off the job, dating from 1977. The study is widely used by policymakers, employers, the media, and others interested in the wide-spread impacts of the changing conditions of work and home life. For more informa-tion, go to www.familiesandwork.org, or contact Alexa Hassink (a.hassink@ promundoglobal.org).