The number of stay-at-home dads in the UK has leapt by a third since before the pandemic, with experts hailing a “monumental” cultural shift that has enabled a surge in quality time spent by fathers with their children.
One in nine stay-at-home parents are fathers, up from one in 14 in 2019, analysis of the latest Office for National Statistics data shows. The number of dads who had left the workforce to look after their family rose 34% over the same period.
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Between July and September this year, 141,000 dads did not have a paid job and stayed at home, compared with 105,000 fathers during the same period in 2019, contributing to the tally of more than 600,000 “missing workers” since the pandemic.
Covid restrictions were an extraordinary catalyst for change in working fathers’ lives, said Adrienne Burgess, a joint CEO of the Fatherhood Institute. Its analysis shows that the amount of time all fathers spend looking after their kids in Britain has increased by almost a fifth (18%) since 2015, from an average of 47 minutes a day to 55 in 2022.
“Mothers are working more and fathers are increasing their childcare and housework. When it comes to how we measure gender equality, both of these areas have shown monumental shifts,” Burgess said.
Stay-at-home dads are still in the minority, but figures show that during the same period the number of stay-at-home mums dropped by 11%. In July to September this year there were 1.2 million mothers out of the workforce due to family reasons, compared with 1.3 million during the same period in 2019.
ONS data shows similar trends for men and women whether they have children or not. The number of men who are not currently part of the workforce due to family reasons rose by 5% in October 2022 compared to the same period in 2019, while that of women dropped by 16%. However, compared to last year, women out of the labour market due to family commitments were up by 2.5% – 35,000 up – while the number of men decreased by 1.6% – 4,000 down.
Looking after family and home is one of the main reasons for women to be out of the workforce – 28% of the women are out of the labour market due to family commitments compared with just 7% of the men.
Robin Lewis, who previously worked in ecommerce marketing, became a stay-at-home dad about 18 months after his lockdown baby Dylan was born. “If I’d been in the office, I don’t think it would have crossed my mind to become a stay-at-home dad,” he said. While the experience was often challenging and exhausting, he said, it had been “brilliant” – and given him a completely different perspective on the challenges that working women face after having a baby.
“If you’ve got men being stay-at-home dads and seeing it from the other side, I think that’s one of the main ways we can enact change,” he said.
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The pandemic also appears to have affected the amount of care done by working fathers. In 2014-15, mums in Great Britain spent 86% more time looking after kids than men, which dropped to 13% in March-April 2020, according to ONS data.
While the gap has since increased, it is still narrower than before. In March 2022, mothers spent 53% more time taking care of their children than men – a reduction of 33 percentage points in the care gap.
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Research shows that the amount of time fathers spend looking after their children in the UK increased steadily from the 1970s until the mid-2000s but then plateaued, Burgess said.
“Fathers had essentially been trimming time off sleep and personal leisure and looking after their children instead, but by 2015 that had reached its limit of possibilities,” she said. “It does seem that the pandemic has been the catalyst for change.”
Scott James Currie, the father of two girls, said he had decided to set up his own architectural design practice from home so he could be more present for his daughters and support his wife’s career. “I missed so much of our first daughter’s early years, I was leaving the house at 6am and getting home at 7pm,” he said. “I just thought: hold on a minute, there’s got to be a better way.”
Now he takes his eldest daughter, Isobel, to school every day, and picks up his 15-month-old, Nella, from nursery – and often works again after bedtime. “Every single day, I’m involved with my kids more than I was the first time around. And, quite simply, that equates to happiness.”
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His experience appears to be echoed in the statistics, which show a significant increase in the number of fathers working from home. Working fathers now spend 6.5 times as much time working from home as they did before the pandemic – they spend more than a third (37%) of their paid work time working from home, compared with 6% in 2014-15.
Mums have also upped their working from home hours, but not by as much – they work from home 27% of the time now, compared with 8% previously.
Dr Jasmine Kelland, a lecturer in human resource studies at the Plymouth Business School, led a project studying fathers during the pandemic. “Dads liked getting to know their children because they were at home for meal times and just more actively involved,” she said. She and other academics have noted that society, at last, has started to shift.
“There has been a real change in what a ‘good father’ looks like – the archetypal breadwinning father, like in Mary Poppins, has long gone. Now if you want to be a good dad, there is an expectation that you will have an active role in day-to-day parenting, rather than just paying the bills.”
Despite the protestations of some politicians that workers have to get back to the office, hybrid and work working is here to stay, Burgess said. “This is fantastic news for families,” she said. “If mothers work more, they earn more, the gender earnings gap drops, and it gives them more power. More egalitarian power in families is associated with all sorts of better outcomes for children.”