The surge in the number of stay-at-home fathers is part of a wider, worrying trend, says Alasdair Palmer
The number of fathers in Britain who stay at home to look after their children has, according some surprising new statistics, increased tenfold over the past decade. There are apparently now about 600,000 men in the UK who are “househusbands”, making up six per cent of men with dependent children. It is certainly true that househusbands are much more common than they were a decade ago. But why? The main reason appears to be money: when a woman earns more than a man, the household sacrifices income when she stays at home, so economic logic dictates that he should do so instead. If money is indeed driving the trend, it should accelerate over the next few years. Girls are increasingly doing better than boys within the education system: half of all girls leaving school at 18 go to university, compared to only 40 per cent of boys. Women may soon out-earn men routinely – which should mean more househusbands. But things may not be quite so straightforward. The traditional social stigma against being a “kept man” has not disappeared completely, as many of those in that role will tell you, as they recite the number of times they have been slighted from the moment they answer the question, “And what do you do?” with, “I stay at home and look after the children”. It is not only other men who do the slighting: women do it, too. One female friend, whose partner does the cleaning and looks after the children while she works as a banker, admits to finding “something emasculating, de-sexing, about a man who spends all his time at home looking after children”. The persistence of that attitude acts as a brake on the number of men who are prepared to take up the role. Still, the stigma against being a stay-at-home dad is less than it used to be. Men of my father’s generation would simply not have considered it. It didn’t matter how much more money their wives might have earned: no self-respecting man would have stayed at home while his wife went out to work. It would have been too humiliating to renounce the role of “provider”.