Huffington Post – Stay-At-Home Dads Face More Bias than Ann Romney

Nathan Greenberg has an interesting piece at the Huffington Post on the social stigma attached to stay-at-home dads. Mr. Greenberg, who maintains a blog about portrayal of fatherhood, compares the constant bias felt by stay-at-home dads to a recent controversy about a prominent stay-at-home mom.

I was interested in the article because the author quoted data to bolster his point about apparent media bias against stay-at-home dads.

Washington Post Error

Unfortunately, Mr. Greenberg’s first data item is imprecise. He quotes a newspaper article written in June of 2007 to state:

“In 2007, stay-at-home dads made up approximately 2.7 % of the stay-at-home parents in the United States.”

That article in the Washington Post read:

“On Fathers Day, an estimated 159,000 stay-at-home dads, or 2.7 percent of the country’s stay-at-home parents — almost triple the percentage from a decade ago — will celebrate what has become a full-time job, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

The Washington Post data is off by a year. As I describe in a post on statistics on stay-at-home dads, the Census Bureau issues a press release on Father’s Day of each year which includes a “Mr. Mom” count of the number of stay-at-home dads in the U.S. In addition to some limitations of the definition of stay-at-home dad, each year’s press release actually relies on data from the previous year.

The actual Census Bureau data for 2007 shows 165,000 stay-at-home dads and 5,563,000 stay-at-home moms. The quote should be: in 2007, stay-at-home dads made up approximately 2.88 percent of the stay-at-home parents in the United States.

Nathan Greenberg Error

I certainly don’t fault Mr. Greenberg for relying on the Washington Post citation and the Post reporter just had minor imprecision in her writing. However, Mr. Greenberg then states that:

“This is triple the percentage from 1997.”

That is wrong. Again, using the actual Census Bureau data for 1997, there were 71,000 stay-at-home dads and 4,617,000 stay-at-home moms. In 1997, 1.51 percent of stay-at-home parents were stay-at-home dads.

The number of stay-at-home dads in the U.S. increased in both real and percentage terms, but did not even double.

The percentage of stay-at-home parents who are stay-at-home dads did triple between 1996 and 2011 (from 1.05 percent to 3.42 percent) and a graph of the stay-at-home dad percentage shows a clearly increasing trend. However, the data also show only a 91 percent jump (less than doubling) from 1997 to 2007.

Errors in International Comparisons

Mr. Greenberg draws a contrast between the U.S. and Canada by citing a 1998 Statistics Canada (i.e. Canadian equivalent of the Census Bureau) report and states that:

“stay-at-home dads make up 12 percent of stay-at-home parents in Canada.”

That is wrong. On table 2 (page 12), the report clearly states that stay-at-home fathers make up 6 percent of stay-at-home parents in Canada. The report further states that stay-at-home fathers make up 12 percent of stay-at-home parents in the Atlantic provinces region of Canada. The Atlantic provinces exclude Quebec, Ontario, Praries, and British Columbia.

Only by cherry-picking a low-population rural area in Canada can we find such a large stay-at-home dad percentage.

Difference in Canadian Definition

Further problems crop up in the international comparison because of the different definitions used by Statistics Canada and the Census Bureau. The Statistics Canada definition has two criteria:

1) there must be dependent children at home
2) the stay-at-home parent must not be looking for work, but must be able to work and not attending school.

The U.S. definition requires a stay-at-home dad to self-report that he stayed out of the labor force for at least one year primarily so he can care for the family,

The Canadian definition simply requires a father to be unemployed for a year.

The difference in definition is massive. The Census Bureau reports that in 2011, there were 958,000 married couples in the United States with children under 18 where only the wife was in the labor force. The same report notes that there were 6,848,000 married couples in the U.S. with children under 18 where only the husband was in the labor force.

If the United States Census Bureau used the same definition for stay-at-home dad as Statistics Canada, 12.27 percent of stay-at-home parents in the U.S. would be stay-at-home dads.

Problems With U.K. Data

Mr. Greenburg continues by citing a “study” by a life insurance company in the U. K. to claim:

“One in seven fathers are the primary caregivers in the United Kingdom”

The “study”, which was cited by the Guardian newspaper, actually states:

“One in six couples (16%) with dependent children say that the main wage earner is female.”

The actual data [there is no link in the Aviva report] is from the U.K. Office for National Statistics, Social Trends – 41, Labour Market Data. Table 5 [last tab] details the reason for economic inactivity. Economic inactivity is analogous to the U.S. Census Bureau term “not in the labor force”.

In 2011, 5.7 percent of U.K. men reported they were “looking after family/home.” 35.4 percent of U.K. women reported the same. The correct analysis of the data would be: of the U.K. spouses who are not working because they are looking after family/home, 13.9 percent are men. The actual Office for National Statistics data makes no distinction between married couples with or without children in the labour market report. It is not possible to compare this data to the stay-at-home dad data from the Census Bureau.

In addition, the BBC College of Journalism blog has a fantastic post excoriating the faulty Aviva “study”.

Movie Site Is Dead

Unfortunately, that leaves us with but a single piece of data upon which to rest our conclusion. Mr. Greenburg cites Jerry A. Boggs research in which he uses a  book called Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever to analyze the portrayal of stay-at-home dads in Hollywood movies. [See clarifying comment from Jerry A. Boggs]

The Videohound MovieRetriever.com site is no longer updated. The two relevant lists remaining on the site for stay-at-home dads and dads do not match the information on Mr. Boggs’ page.

My Personal Opinion

I think a discussion of the social stigma facing stay-at-home dads is well warranted. A discussion of the social stigma facing working moms with children is equally warranted. However, relying on erroneous data to draw sweeping conclusions benefits no one.