Sunday, August 15, 2004

Our kind of men are now a majority: a new poll (commissioned by those sensitive new-age guys at Spike TV) has found that 56 percent of the men they polled would consider being an at-home dad.

Fifty-six percent: Let's let that sink in for a moment.

This is amazing news. When careerbuilder.com said last year that 40 percent of dads would do the at-home thing, I was nearly speechless. Spike is suggesting that the actual number of guys who would take the gig is actually 40 percent higher than even the careerbuilder study. (Let me lay out the caveat: I haven't seen any raw data -- I'll ask for it tomorrow -- so I don't know how the question was worded.)

You want the bad news? The same study found that 57 percent of those polled -- a number statistically identical to the would-be at-home dads -- "support equal partnership in marriage." I have a hard time squaring the high at-home dad number with the lower-than-expected "equal partnership" finding. My best guess is that the two groups are pretty much the same, and that the at-home dad question must have been broad enough to catch pretty much any man who believes in equity at home. But I'll post more as I learn more.

The other reason this study is important? Spike's PR wizards managed to place the study in this Time article, ensuring that millions of people will hear about it. The story seems to begin as a piece about the over-extended superdad, as I read further it became less and less lucid. This can be excused; the Spike study was all over the map, and the story reflects the confusion. The upshot seems to be that men are increasingly feeling pulled between family and work (66 percent say they'd risk bad blood at work to take a month's paternity leave) but doing nothing about it (dads are actually 18 percent *more* likely to work more than 40 hours a week than their childless counterparts). Work hours remain up, job security is shaky.

The upshot from my point of view is that the gut-level social resistance to the idea of caretaking men is fading rapidly, but the relatively modest number of at-home dads suggests a widening gap between those who would stay home and those who do. Instead, the resistance is coming from more practical -- if more difficult -- concerns: the modern workplace, the financial realities of the modern economy, circa. 2004. I actually take this as good news. Dads will have to expend less and less energy engaging the squishy business of altering stereotypes. Instead, anyone interested in the promotion of rebel dad-dom in the future will have increasingly solid targets: Paternity leave without a loss of job security. Respect in re-entering the workforce after caring for kids. Better flextime options. In short, the removal of the barriers that keep men (and women) at the their desk, no matter what.

Let me leave you with the strangest bit of the Spike survey: 56 percent of men said they'd consider being at-home dads. The exact same percentage admitted to having visited a strip club. Hmmm.

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