Time and Life

by Wendy Wang

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How do single fathers balance work and family?

Single father1Single fathers are on the rise. Today, 8% of U.S. households with children under the age of 18 are headed by single fathers, up from 1% in 1960.

By definition, single fathers are not currently married and do not have a partner to help in raising their children in the household. In reality, single fathers often times are not “single”: about 41% of them live with an unmarried partner (the partner may or may not be mother of their children). If you are curious about the share for single mothers: about 16% of single mothers live with a cohabiting partner.

In this post I focus on the “real” single fathers who are not living with a partner and are the only parent in the household. I look at their time allocation at work and at home, and compare their time with that of married and cohabiting fathers, as well as that of single mothers. Most numbers are drawn from my analysis in an earlier report about modern parenthood.

Being mom and dad at the same time, one may think that single fathers carry a heavier workload than married fathers. However, the time diary data suggest that this is not the case.

Compared with fathers who are married or living with a partner, single fathers spend more time doing housework (averaging 10 hours per week), but less time in childcare (6 hours per week). Single fathers’ time in paid work is less than that of married fathers, but more than that of cohabiting fathers.

If we add up the time in all three types of work (paid work, childcare, and housework), single fathers’ total workload per week is about 50 hours, which is higher than that of cohabiting fathers (48 hours), but lower than that of married fathers (55 hours).

Compared with married fathers, single fathers are less likely to have a college education (35% vs. 15%), and their employment rate is lower as well (89% vs.78%). Single fathers tend to have somewhat older children than do married or cohabiting fathers, which may help to explain why single fathers’ childcare time is slightly less than that of fathers in other family types.

Single father2

Single fathers work as hard as single mothers, judging by their total workload. Each group spend an average of 50 hours per week in all work-related  activities including paid work, childcare and housework, although their time allocation is somewhat different. Single fathers spend longer time in paid work than do single mothers (34 hours vs. 24 hours per week), but their time in childcare is half of what single mothers engage in (6 hours vs. 12 hours per week), and their housework time is lower as well (10 hours vs. 14 hours per week).

Still, single fathers manage to have four more hours of  leisure time per week than do single mothers.

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When Daddy Stays at Home …

Stay-at-home fathers are more visible these days. Among U.S. fathers who are married or living with a partner, about 6% are homemakers, according to analyses in a recent Pew Research Center report I coauthored. Stay-at-home dads are much less common than stay-at-home mothers, who make up about 30% of mothers with a spouse or partner.

Stay-at-home dads are definitely the most involved dads. The amount of time they spent taking care of children and doing housework is the most of all fathers. They also do more at home than their partners who work for pay, which is an exception in two-parent families (see numbers in the table below). These findings are based on time diary data.


However, when paidwork, childcare and housework are combined, the workload of stay-at-home fathers is about 25 hours less than that of their partners who work for pay (33 hours vs. 58 hours per week). In contrast, their leisure time is 20 hours more than that of their partners. (Translation: They work less but play more than do their spouses/partners who are the sole breadwinner of the family.)

The workload of stay-at-home fathers is also significantly less than that of stay-at-home mothers. The gap is about 13 hours per week in terms of time spent taking care of kids, doing chores, and work-related activities. However, stay-at-home dads enjoy about 14 hours more leisure time per week than do stay-at-home moms (Translation: Stay-at-home moms work harder than stay-at-home dads?)

Let’s look at the numbers in another way: On a weekly basis, stay-at-home fathers spend an average of 33 hours doing housework and childcare, but 43 hours in leisure. Their leisure time is more than their work time.

What does this mean? Do dads just want to have fun when they stay at home? Or Stay-at-home dads are lazy dads?

Things maybe a little bit more complicated than this.

Compared with fathers who work for pay, stay-at-home fathers are slightly older (their average age is 41), less likely to be white (45% non-white) and less likely to be college-educated (19% with a college degree).

To some fathers, staying at home might be a choice, and to others, it may be not. It is safe to say that not all stay-at-home dads decided to quit their high-paying job and be a full-time homemaker.

So what is it like to be a stay-at-home dad?

I happen to know a couple who just had a baby last year, the wife was working full time and the husband’s job wasn’t stable. So when the baby was born, they decided to have the husband stay at home, saving childcare costs.

When asked about how he feels about the situation,the husband says,“Pretty good, but oh my God, the work at home is stressful, I’ve got diapers to change, etc…” But there are rewards— “My daughter is really close to me now, she prefers to stay with me even when her mother comes back from work.”

I am also curious about whether the mom is happy about the arrangement, “yeah, I am happy, my husband takes care of everything in the house” says the mom, with a big smile on her face. It is not like she doesn’t do anything at home though. “When I get home, I try to give my husband a rest. I give the baby a bath and do other things.” She also admits that she needs help, because “I don’t know where the baby’s clothes are, and where the towels are…”

Haha, it seems that men surely can do what women do. My friends’ husband is working hard at home, I know he is.