In 1975, more than half of American kids had a stay-at-home parent, and of course it was usually their mom. But today, fewer than one in three kids have a stay-at-home parent. Perhaps that’s why childcare experts say only one in two infants and toddlers is regularly read to by mom or dad.
So why are the country’s growing number of stay-at-home dads struggling with depression, ridicule from their peers, and bleak job prospects when the time comes to re-enter the workforce?
This July, Vice News spoke with a number of stay-at-home dads, who described problems like social isolation and even mental illness. According to a number of studies, stay-at-home dads are more likely to suffer from anxiety, insomnia and erectile dysfunction. There is even a greater chance that they’ll commit adultery.
Several men talked to Vice about the social costs of their new role.
“I have friends tease me about being financially dependent,” said one father named Mark. “They’ll ask, ‘What’s your allowance?’ So I say to them, ‘Well, how much do you think childcare costs? Because that’s what I’m getting paid.'”
Another dad described being shunned by the moms at a local park, who eyed him with suspicion and distrust. Now, there’s growing evidence that when full-time dads try to re-enter the workforce, they face a unique and powerful stigma.
“When a man accepts second priority to their spouse with regards to their career, their peers make the assumption that he is not a leader,” Dr. Robert Chell, a psychology professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University told New York Daily News. “Professionals see it as a sign of resignation that he is willing to give up the race in rising to an authoritative position in his industry. He is not ambitious or capable of handling the challenge and lacks the drive and passion men are thought to have.”
Yet despite these pressures, the number of stay-at-home dads is growing year after year.
According to Pew Research, the number of full-time American dads doubled between 1989 and 2012, from one million to two million. To help support these men, a number of advocacy groups have formed in the last decade. One is the National At-Home Dad Network, which provides resources, peer support, and tries to fight the stigma associated with at-home dads.