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The number of dads staying home with the kids, while still small, has more than doubled in the last decade, according to U.S. Census data. That's up from 1.6 percent in 2001 to 3.4 percent last year.
But it's not the result of job losses in the recession, according to new research from Boston College. A growing number of men are deciding to stay to raise their children to benefit their families, help their wives' careers and bring them closer to their kids, say the researchers from the Center for Work and Family in their recent report, "The New Dad: Right at Home."
Census data says 81,000 dads stayed home with the kids in 2001, compared to 176,000 last year in the United States.
The Boston researchers conducted lengthy interviews with 31 stay-at-home dads and 23 of their spouses to get insight into the shift.
"Contrary to media reports about laid-off fathers who re-invent themselves as full-time caregivers, most of the men we interviewed report that being a stay-at-home dad is a choice, not simply a reaction to an unanticipated job loss," said study author Brad Harrington, the center's director, in a written statement accompanying the research.
"The existence of at-home fathers greatly enables and facilitates the careers of their working wives or partners. The overwhelming response from wives was that having an at-home spouse has enabled these women to pursue their careers in a much more assertive fashion without the limitations that virtually all working mothers experience."
The center said the study follows two earlier reports that also show how much the roles of both men and women in the workplace are changing. Employers will need to "adapt their thinking and their actions regarding who needs support to do so adequately," Harrington noted of caregiving roles.
More than half of 1,000 fathers who were surveyed last year said they'd feel comfortable staying at home full-time with their children, according to one of those studies.
"That's a real change in attitude," Harrington told the Boston Herald's Margery Eagan.
Eagan wrote: "So is this: These fathers aren't particularly uncomfortable answering the 'what do you do?' question. Their wives aren't turned off ('most said they love having husbands at home,' Harrington said). Some mothers are bothered when baby falls and toddles first to dad, not her. But having husbands at home also means they can accept promotions and added work responsibilities without worrying about even more separation from their kids."
Keith Miller, a stay-at-home dad, told Eagan that he's not replacing his wife in his daughter's heart. "There isn't anything like mommy. They haven't lost their mother. They've gained their father."
An article in MailOnline used movies that were popular in their day to show the evolving attitudes toward dads who stay home with the kids. "When the comedy 'Mr. Mom' hit the big screen in 1983," wrote Snejana Farberov, "it portrayed Michael Keaton as a clueless stay-at-home dad who is laid off from work and is forced to learn how to take care of his children without setting the house on fire.
"Fast forward to 2012, the fathers in the new comedy 'What to Expect When You're Expecting' are portrayed as much savvier caretakers to their brood, but still, old stereotypes die hard."