American fathers are spending more time per week with their children – especially college-educated and married dads.
That’s from a research brief by Wendy Wang, director of research at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS).
“Fathers in America now spend an average of 7.8 hours per week taking care of their children at home, up by 1 hour per week in just about two decades,” Wang writes, noting that mothers’ time taking care of their children has remained consistent during the same period.
Wang studied data over the past two decades from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis tool that is the only federal survey clocking how Americans spend their time.
The ATUS sample size for fathers with children at home under 18 was 3,096 in 2003 and 2,027 in combined data from 2021 and 2022.
Wang discovered the combined data in 2021-2022 show college-educated fathers are now spending an average of 10 hours, 12 minutes per week taking care of their children at home, an increase of more than 2 hours per week since 2003.
Additionally, in 2003, married dads were spending an average of 6.8 hours weekly caring for their children, but, two decades later, married fathers have increased time with their kids to 8 hours per week.
Unmarried but cohabiting dads also show a rise from an average of 5.1 hours to 6.7 hours a week with their children.
When race is a factor, the data show an uptick in average childcare time, over the past 20 years, of 2 hours per week for Asian fathers and 1.8 hours for white dads.
While the data appear to be pointing to a surge in the average time fathers in these demographic categories care for their children at home, Wang stresses that this increase “does not apply to all dads”:
[P]arenting time has been stagnant or even in decline for other dads. Fathers without a college degree now spend an average of 5.9 hours a week doing child care activities, down from 6.2 hours per week in 2003. Hispanic fathers’ time with their children decreased by about 1.2 hours per week in the past two decades. There is a small increase in child care time for black fathers since 2003, by about 20 minutes per week. There is barely any change in single fathers’ time with their children during the same period.
“With these trends in place, the gap in fathers’ parenting time has widened by fathers’ education, marital status, and race/ethnicity,” Wang observes.
Meanwhile, the researcher notes another recent trend of a “modest decline” in the number of children who live in fatherless homes.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, she reports, reveal that over the past 10 years the number of children under the age of 18 who live in a home without a father or both parents dropped from 20.6 million in 2012 to 18.4 million in 2022.
“The share of children living without a father (but with a single mother) dropped from 24.4% to 21.5 % between 2012 and 2022,” the researcher explains. “The share of children who live without both parents remained stable, but the share living with both parents increased from 68% to 70% during the same period.”
Similarly, data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show the share of dads who do not live with their children declined from 27% of fathers with at least one child who lived elsewhere in 2006-2008 to 23% in 2017-2019.
“The time non-resident fathers spend with their children is only a fraction of that spent by residential fathers,” Wang reports. “Time diary data suggest that non-resident fathers spent an average of 0.6 hours (36 mins) per week with their children in 2021/2022, compared with 7.8 hours per week for fathers who live with their children.”
The NCHS data also reveal a link between fathers’ education level and race/ethnicity to their residence status with regard to their children.
Of dads without a college degree, 27% live separated from their children, while only 10% of college-educated fathers live apart from their kids.
Race/ethnicity data show 43% of black fathers live apart from their children while 14% of white dads and 29% of Hispanic fathers also live separately from their kids.
“Overall, 44% of nonresident fathers reported that they saw or visited their children regularly in the past month (at least once a week),” Wang observes.
“[C]ollege-educated fathers are also more engaged with their non-resident children than noncollege educated fathers (56% vs. 42%),” she explains, and points to yet another trend for fathers who begin another relationship and, perhaps, a second family.
“In contrast, fathers who are currently married or living with a partner are less likely than fathers who are either divorced or never married to see their non-resident children on a regular basis,” Wang notes:
In fact, currently married or cohabiting fathers who have non-resident children are less likely than their never-married or divorced peers to say that they and their (nonresident) children’s mother are a good parenting team. In addition, married or cohabiting non-resident fathers are more likely than never-married or divorced nonresident fathers also to have children who live at home with them, which splits their time and attention in parenting.
Wang concludes “fatherhood is undergoing a transformation in America.”
“Fathers overall are taking on more and more caregiving responsibilities for their children,” she asserts:
However, fatherhood in America has been increasingly divided along educational, marital, and racial and ethnic lines. While fathers’ time with their children has increased for college-educated, partnered, white, or Asian fathers, it has been stagnant or even in decline for other fathers in the past two decades.