More Stay-At-Home Dads Finding Jobs

Stay-at-home dads are going back to work.

The number of married couples where a mother is employed but the father isn’t slipped to just over 1.45 million in 2013, the Labor Department said Friday, down from about 1.5 million the prior year and a peak of nearly 1.79 million in 2009.

The annual report analyzed the employment status of husbands and wives living in the same household with children under 18.

At the high point in 2009, 7.4% of that group had a mom who worked and a dad who didn’t. The surge in stay-at-home dads drew media coverage, created a new culture of dad groups and engendered dad-style parenting.

But last year, 6.3% of couples fell into the category of a mom who was employed and a dad who wasn’t. While still above pre-recession levels, the figures suggest rising employment in male-dominated industries has lured some dads out of child care and back into the workforce.

Meanwhile, the number of married couples where the father was employed but the mother wasn’t rose to 7.21 million last year—or about 31% of such couples—from 7.19 million in 2013. In 2007, there were 7.6 million such families.

Some stay-at-home dads say the latest data may not capture broader societal trends. “More and more dads are in the role of an at-home dad,” said Lance Somerfeld, co-founder of the NYC Dads Group. “What’s changing the most are the lines of what truly make someone a stay-at-home dad. That’s where things are getting blurry.”

In the New York City group, for example, many fathers work part-time but remain primary-care givers for children, said Mr. Somerfeld, who takes care of his 5-year-old son. “Dads are being more creative in the work that they do,” he said.

It’s a particularly viable choice as married moms are increasingly earning more than fathers. A Pew Research Center study last year found that “among married couples with children, the proportion in which the wife’s income tops her husband’s has increased from about 4% in 1960 to 23% in 2011.”

But the job market for male workers has been improving. During the downturn, job losses among men outnumbered those among women by 2.6 to 1. That’s because men dominate employment in goods-producing industries like construction and manufacturing that were particularly hard-hit during the recession. Health-care and education jobs were relatively more stable.

Since the labor market bottomed out, men’s employment has outpaced women’s. While still not back to pre-recession levels, construction has added more than a half-million jobs from its recent low point, and manufacturing has recovered 626,000 since factory payrolls cratered.

Overall employment for males peaked at 70.9 million in 2007, bottomed out at 64.7 million in December 2009 and rebounded to 69.8 million last month, according to the latest payroll data.

Still, stay-at home dads say the statistics don’t capture modern American family life. “Mothers and fathers are finding all kinds of unique ways to take care of their families,” said Al Watts, president of National at Home Dad Network and a stay-at-home dad for his four children. “Men are stepping up to the plate.”