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A boom in stay-at-home dads, but for different reasons than moms

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More American dads are choosing to stay home with kids.

While for gender-equity advocates that might sound like good news, a majority still cite illness or disability, or an inability to find work as their primary reason for becoming Mr. Mom, according to a study released Thursday by The Pew Research Center.

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The number of stay-at-home dads reached 2 million in 2012, a 90 percent increase over the 1.1 million dads staying at home in 1989. During that same period, the share of fathers in the stay-at-home parent population grew from 10 percent in 1989 to 16 percent in 2012, according to the report.

Recommended: Stay-at-home moms on the rise

This report comes on the heels of a Pew report released in April that pointed to a rise in stay-at-home mothers as well, citing an increase in mothers’ inability to find work, and an increase in non-native mothers staying at home.

More dads choosing to stay home

The biggest positive increase reported in the report is that of fathers choosing to stay home.  

According to the report, “Nearly as many (21%) say the main reason they are home is to care for their home or family. This represents a fourfold increase from 1989, when only 5% of stay-at-home fathers said they were home primarily to care for family.”

The public still feels like moms are better at home

There still seems to be a stigma attached to stay-at-home fatherhood, with a 2013 Pew Research survey showing 51 percent of respondents said that children are better off with a mother in the home. Only 8 percent said that children are better off with a father as the stay-at-home parent.

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That same study showed that only 34 percent of respondents agreed that children are better off with a mother who works, versus 76 percent who supported a father working outside the home. 

Still more dads are home because of disability 

Despite the growing number of dads staying at home, the largest share of stay-at-home dads (35 percent) still seem to be those who claim they are home because of an illness or disability.

According to the report, This is in sharp contrast to stay-at-home mothers, most of whom (73%) report that they are home specifically to care for their home or family; just 11% are home due to their own illness or disability.” 

So, while stay-at-home fathers are on the rise, they look entirely different from their stay-at-home mothers counterparts. They are older, more likely to be living in poverty (47 percent of fathers to 34 percent of mothers, respectively), and more likely to be home because of an illness or disability. 

The differences are still distinct, but the numbers show that there is an opportunity for fathers to reach parity with mothers in the home, at least in understanding the challenges of caring for families and children.