There’s been plenty of recent press around the rise in stay-at-home dads in the UK. Now, in this shiny new modern age, men now make up nearly 10% of Brits who have chosen to stay home and look after their children. From 1993-2014, the amount of dads staying home jumped from 111,000-229,000.
In an ideal world, this sort of thing wouldn’t be news. Ideally, it wouldn’t matter who stayed home or who didn’t, because that gender stereotype of the male breadwinner wouldn’t exist: both parents would just simply be, well, parents. Unfortunately, we’re yet to get there. But this very hype might just help us along.
At the moment though, this is legitimate news. Against a long history of women traditionally staying home to tend to the little tykes, this change is, well, a change. Change is new. Change is news.
It can take decades, at the very least, to change collective modes of thought. For stigma or a stereotype to dissipate, it first needs to be addressed. For this to happen, it needs to be socially acceptable to address said stereotype. And the ways these sorts of things are thrust into that very same social spotlight usually tend to be a tad reductive.
But once something is in the spotlight, it means we’re all looking at it. And from here, we start to think. When people get used to an idea it ceases to be new(s). When this happens we’re able to look at it differently. We’re able to consider it on a more measured, level keel. Well, ideally.
The idea of the stay-at-home mother vs. the male breadwinner is one that’s long ingrained, and, whilst it’s still got a way to go before it’s dissolved, the fact it’s in question mean we’re on the path to getting there.
We’re by no means out of the woods just yet. Some studies show that around 70% of domestic work is still done by women, whilst another study by the Council on Contemporary Families found that whilst a woman’s job doesn’t have much impact on the strength of a marriage, her husband’s employment situation was still found to pose a threat. And then there are all those sticky puddles of self-esteem left lying around when some men make the switch from work to home. Erm, equality, and all that.
The change has also been pushed in part by steep demands for childcare resources in the UK, rather than the good and idealistic intentions of parents nation-wide. Childcare costs for British families have hiked up 27% since 2009. There’s a severe strain on childcare facilities (particularly in London, where there’s an average of 4.4 children per available childcare place, a figure higher than the national average of 3.9), rigid staffing laws, low-pay stigma and, of course, the low pay itself. To boot, British interest in completing childcare courses has dropped, too.
Sadly, the gender gap in pay in the UK is still a very real thing, too. In 2013, the average difference in median hourly earnings for all employees (both full and part time) rose from 19.6% to 19.7%. That makes an average pay gap of over £5,000 a year: the widest it’s been since 2008.
This boost in stay-at-home dads may be tied to larger social pulls, but, in part, we can still draw speculative positives from it. After all, you have to start somewhere when taking on the epic task of eradicating a long-ingrained stereotype.
We won’t get there overnight. But if we keep asking questions about what’s ‘okay’ and ‘normal’, then the types of conversations we’re having will change.