The social and economic landscape is continuing to evolve, and this is having a decidedly pronounced effect on the accepted roles of mothers and fathers in the U.S. This is most noticeable in the statistics for stay-at-home parents. The number of fathers who are assuming the role of primary carer has soared since 2002. A significant 32% of dads took care of their children for at least one day a week during 2010, compared with just 26% a decade ago.
There are several reasons for this clear shift, with one of the most significant being the diminishing inequity between male and female salaries. In fact, research conducted by author and journalist Lisa Mundy suggests that the next generation of female employees will actually earn more than their male counterparts, which is the continuation of a trend that has developed in industries such as law and medicine. As women and mothers continue to boost their earning potential and become the leading source of household income, fathers are assuming a greater share of the child care duties.
Financial Value of Stay-at-Home Parents
In terms of stay-at-home dads, they typically contribute far fewer hours of weekly work than their female counterparts, with this years Salary.com survey suggesting that they put in an average of 52.9 hours over a seven-day period. This equates to an average annual salary of $60,128, and further proves the point that while the financial worth of the stay-at-home parent may be diminishing, fathers are certainly playing a proactive role in the upbringing of their children. While this cultural shift may be due in some part to the effects of the recession and significant job cuts, it is more likely to be an indication of increasing social and economic equality.
The Value of Work
While valuing the time spent to complete household and parental chores is one thing, applying financial worth to replacing stay-at-home parents is quite another. Although there can be little doubt that fathers are developing a far greater influence in the home and as stay-at-home parents, the value of their household output dwindles in comparison to their female partners. According to Insure.com's 2011 Father's Day Index, it would cost just $20,415 annually to replace the work of dads around the home, which is a staggering one-third of the total sum that would be required to hire cover for mom.
Although these figures reflect the discrepancy between the financial worth of each parent around the home, they are also indicative of the seminal role that mothers play within the typical family unit. Jamie O'Boyle, a senior analyst at the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis in Philadelphia, suggests that mothers play a far more central and integral role in the family than fathers. She says it is mothers who subsequently take a leading hand in making core, fundamental decisions. Mothers remain key in determining where youngsters attend school and the location of the family home.
SEE: Keep Working Or Stay Home With The Kids?
The Role of the Stay-at-Home Parent
Chores, tasks and financial worth aside, there is a more fundamental and valuable role performed by the stay-at-home parent. This relates to the specific job of individually raising children. When the traditional roles of mothers and fathers were better defined, it was the former who assumed the position of nurturer and spent the majority of her time in the home. In contrast, fathers were thrust into a more distant, authoritarian and exemplary role.
SEE: Older Parents Face New Financial Challenges
The Bottom Line
As social and economic factors continue to create more stay-at-home fathers and blur the lines of the stereotypical household, we are witnessing a significant shift in the dynamics of families nationwide. Although parents continue to share household responsibility and even swap roles and key chores within the family, there are still cultural differences projected on men and women that will forever determine the boundaries for child care and the individual value of stay-at-home mothers and fathers.
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