CLOSE BOND: There are more dads staying at home to raise their children these days, for a variety of reasons.
CLOSE BOND: There are more dads staying at home to raise their children these days, for a variety of reasons. iStock

Rise in number of dads sharing load of at-home caring

ABOUT 80,000 Australian families now have a stay-at-home dad at the helm, according to research recently released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

While the overall number of stay-at-home fathers remains low, they are estimated to have risen from 68,500 (4.2 per cent) of couple families with children in 2011 to about 80,000 (4.6 per cent) in 2016, based on the latest Census data.

Institute director Anne Hollonds said this was around the level found in comparable countries such as the US and Canada.

"These stay-at-home fathers are a diverse group, including dads with ill health, a disability or who are out of work, as well as those choosing to stay home to care for children,” Ms Hollonds said.

"They come to the role for many different reasons. Compared to mothers at home, stay-at-home dads tend to be older, with older children.”

AIFS Senior Research Fellow Dr Jennifer Baxter said the research focused on stay-at-home fathers who were not employed, had a spouse or a partner in some employment and children aged under 15.

"The increase in the number of stay-at-home dads from 2011 to 2016 reflected increases in the numbers of fathers that were unemployed or not in the labour force, but they were still far from a homogenous group,” Dr Baxter said.

The report examined the financial wellbeing of stay-at-home father families using data from the 2011 Census and found these families were more likely to have low household incomes compared to families where the mother stayed at home.

"Fewer than one in 10 stay-at-home father families have household incomes in the top range, identified here as earning $3000 or more per week. Dual working families were much more likely to have these incomes,” Dr Baxter said.

"The lowest household incomes within the stay-at-home father families were when the mother worked part-time and the father was unemployed or not in the labour force. Around half of these families had a household income lower than $1000 a week, similar to incomes in jobless families.

"By contrast, when fathers had a job but were away from work, household incomes were comparable with those of dual-working families, suggesting fathers were often receiving an income from their job.”

Dr Baxter said employment policies could help support stay-at-home fathers by providing opportunities for fathers to take time out of employment, or to make use of flexible work arrangements.

"Even if such policies do not result in fathers taking an extensive period of time out of employment, or if they result in fathers reducing hours rather than leaving work altogether, they send the signal that it is acceptable for fathers ... to take a shared role in caregiving.”