Sure, the recession sent more men into the home to take on the role of caregiving father, but was that the trend even before the economic downturn? Al Watts investigates.
It’s Tax Week again, an opportunity to assess how the nation is recovering from a recession. The prevailing story is that the recession briefly changed who was providing childcare as jobs were being shed and the recovery has put things “back to normal.” This story is wrong.
Early on, this last Great Recession was dubbed the “Mancession,” because many more men than women were laid off during the economic downturn, particularly from male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing. As economic indicators started to shakily look up, some have called the return of men to work in large numbers the “He-covery.”
It is unfortunate that in most cases, the story of the recession and gender pretty much ends there. Something much more significant has happened beyond work or joblessness; the evolving role of caregiving dads.
What’s different about this recession, and what every analysis out there has seemed to miss, is that some of these laid-off men of the 21st century have actually chosen to stay out of the workforce instead of trying to get another job. Even more surprising is the trend of dads as primary caregivers had been rising steadily well before the “Mancession.”
In the past, a man who was laid off immediately, and by necessity, went about trying to get replacement work. First of all, his wife did not typically have the earning potential to support the family like many women do today. Second, the cultural option wasn’t open to him. He never considered staying home with the kids and letting his wife or partner bring home the family’s income.
The shift that the mainstream media has missed is that today’s men are WILLING AND ABLE to take on home and childcare responsibilities. And just as importantly, this trend was already accelerating BEFORE the “Mancession.” In April of 2008, just before the sub-prime meltdown, the Today Show reported that “the number of at-home dads has grown by over 60% in the last 4 years.” In those four years (2004-2008), the economy was whizzing along, and even then, many men were still choosing to leave good-paying jobs to take care of their children.
Another fact the media always misses is that the number of at-home dads actually declined slightly (see table FG8) from 2009 to 2010, at the height of the “Mancession,” then rose sharply (12.5%) in 2011 during the “He-covery.” The media has explained the Mancession as being men losing their jobs and forced into caring for their kids and the He-covery as their relief in being able to return to work when THE EXACT OPPOSITE IS THE TRUTH. Dads who were home tried to get work during the recession but as it ended, even more of them than ever before quit their jobs to be at-home dads. So the idea of men becoming at-home dads is not just some strange fallout of the sluggish economy; men were already trending toward being at home with their kids.
Sure, some of the men who have been laid off and are still at-home dads might rather be working outside the home, but most of them are finding that at-home parenting fits them well. They are finding it more rewarding than they would have expected and are discovering they can be good at it.
For the last four years, the tone of every news story about the so-called Mancession has been solemn, making this societal shift from men working to men being at-home parents seem like a bad thing. I believe the reverse is true. I believe this is merely speeding up an already burgeoning trend toward complete equality in the workplace and home where men and women can either work or be at home with the kids based on their skills or situation, rather than their gender. Difficult as these years have been for many, the recession has given families an opportunity to look at their lives and develop, test, and refine a configuration that works for their situation, rather than just recreating the dynamics of generations past.
Most importantly, I look at the Mancession as a chance for men to change how society views masculinity, much like the ’60s changed how society viewed women as being more than just housewives.
Al Watts is an at-home dad of four children living in Omaha, Nebraska, and the President of The National At-Home Dad Network. He writes regularly for The Good Men Project and Momaha.com and is co-editing a book project titled “Dads Behaving Dadly: Chronicles of the Fatherhood Revolution.”