Thursday, March 29, 2007

Back to the Numbers

(Warning: I talk below about men and workplaces and flexibility and balance. Apparently, the readers over at On Balance are sick and tired of the topic. You folks tend to be more forgiving, but if you've had it with the topic, then you may want to hold off reading until tomorrow.)

I have been thinking and thinking about the latest at-home dad number (159,000 in 2005) in the hopes that I can find something new to say about it. As longtime readers know, the Census Bureau releases these figures every year, and every year I struggled to say something new. (Here's my take from the 2002 numbers, the 2003 numbers and the 2004 numbers).

But there's nothing new there. The numbers are so small as to be useless when looking for trends, and the only conclusion that can be safely drawn is that at-home dad numbers are rising. It's probably not even safe to hazard a guess at how fast the numbers are rising.

Of course, the biggest sin continues to be the omission of fathers who -- by any other definition -- are the primary caretakers. In the age of broadband internet, work is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can be an at-home dad and still bring home some cash on the side, which take you right out of the Census stats. I imagine the same problem compromises the at-home mom numbers.

There's a new book out there (which -- full disclosure -- I haven't read) that underscores that the  workforce is shifting, and pigeonholing men and women into a "work" box or a "home" box is increasingly futile. It's called The Opt-Out Revolt, and from the sounds of the early reviews, it's a pretty comprehensive look at the way parents (mostly moms) make constant shifts in their work-life responsibilities to pursue their various goals.

I'm prone to prattle on about how technology has freed knowledge workers from the old notions of "work" as something that must be done somewhere else for eight straight hours. The future will be a lot more subtle. You'll see a lot more dads who will be able to stradding the work-home divide and play a key role in their children's lives. But you won't see those dads show up in the Census stats.


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