The role of fathers have changed dramatically over the past 50 years. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

More men putting child-rearing ahead of careers, a change from generations past

  • June 19, 2016

You might get a sense of how different when you notice a couple of dads coming out of Starbucks in comfortable sweats, pushing strollers on a weekday afternoon. Pictures on Facebook of new fathers standing in the delivery room holding their newborns might also seem a little different. Men taking paternity leave from the office — another change.

In fact, the changing role of fathers has been the most dramatic change in Canadian family life over the last 50 years, Vanier Institute of the Family CEO Nora Spinks told The Catholic Register. 

To mark Father’s Day this year, the Vanier Institute has released a chart that shows how Canadian dads have assumed more caring roles, have stepped up when it comes to housework and have put child-rearing ahead of their careers.

Among the highlights:

o 27.1 per cent of recent fathers reported they would take parental leave from their jobs in 2014, compared with just three per cent in 2000.

o By 2010 fathers with a child under five spent nearly 10 hours a week on household chores, compared to nearly 20 hours for mothers. But Spinks guesses more up-to-date numbers would show that gap narrowing.

o In the last five years, the average number of days fathers will be off work for personal or family reasons has increased from 1.2 days to two.

o In 1976 only one per cent of stay-at-home parents were fathers, compared to 11 per cent in 2014.

It’s often assumed the biggest change in Canadian families over the last two generations has been women embracing careers in the paid labour force. But that change has been minor compared to men taking on more responsibility caring for children and managing the household, Spinks said.

“In fact, women have been contributing to household income for generations. It just looked different,” said Spinks.

Since the industrial revolution there have been two-earner families where mom sold eggs, took in laundry, took in boarders and landed jobs as cleaners, nurses, teachers, etc.

The stay-at-home mom paired up with a dad whose sole value and role was wage earning was never the experience of the majority of families. It represents an ideal that enjoyed a brief heyday in post-war North America and largely on television.

“Actually, that was a blip,” said Spinks. “And a relatively privileged group of families where that happened.”

Women work different kinds of jobs now. Well-educated women especially have gained a foothold in careers and professions that were once the preserve of men. That means women’s share of household income has risen. As of 2008, 29 per cent of Canadian wives earned more than their husbands — a number that has constantly risen.

“Men on the other hand, if you go back just one generation, men were just allowed into the labour and delivery rooms when kids were being born,” said Spinks. “Before that, they weren’t even allowed into the room. Their connection to children and child care was once removed.”

Of course fathers always played a role raising their children. Decent dad’s never refused to help with household chores. But there was little expectation that father would or could cook, clean, do laundry, change diapers or engage in baby talk.

“You can look at it from your dad’s generation, your grandfather’s generation and ultimately your kids’ generation and see how much has changed,” said Spinks. “From a research perspective, what we have seen is that the expectation — external and internal — of men in the role of care and caring has changed. Part of being a man in today’s society includes being a carer. It’s both caring and earning. Not so long ago it was predominantly earning and little or no caring.”

Even modern strollers tell the tale. 

“It will make you turn your head. Is that a dad with a stroller? Strollers used to be designed for women. They were shorter, the handles weren’t as adjustable,” said Spinks. “Not only are men more actively involved with kids, especially the little wee ones, but the market has adapted to that. So the carriers, the strollers, the equipment has been adjusted or redesigned with men in mind.”

Family timeline colour 01Infographic by David Chen/Data from the Vanier Institute for the Family

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