Men now make up nearly 10 per cent of those who care for children while their partner goes out to work, official employment statistics revealed today.
There were 227,000 men staying at home to look after family between September and November last year, a rise of 19,000 compared to the same period in 2011 and the highest increase since figures began in 1993.
Experts suggested that the shift was down to men losing their jobs in the recession and either failing to find new employment or deciding that it did not make financial sense for them to return to work if their partner was a high earner.
Overall more than 2.3m people are classed as “economically inactive” because they are at home looking after children, the Office for National Statistics said.
The number of women staying at home saw a small rise over the period to reach just over 2.1m, but has been higher in the past.
The ONS said the figures reflected a growing trend where it was more common for the man to stay at home while his spouse went out to work.
A recent European Commission report said couples where both the man and woman earn money “lost ground” during the economic downturn in favour of female breadwinners, who increased their share to almost 10 per cent.
Jenny Garrett, the author of Rocking Your Role, a guide for women who earn the main salary in their family, welcomed the trend.
“The figures don’t surprise me. I think it’s a lot to do with the sectors that have been hit most by the current economic climate, which in the private sector were quite male dominated,” she said.
“Many men are now having to think about whether to retrain or possibly take a job that is not as highly paid, and asking whether it is worth their while if their partner is in a good job.”
However, she warned that there was still a “taboo” around female breadwinners and stay-at-home fathers.
“It’s something that’s kept quiet or treated as a bit embarrassing. We need to have more conversations about it in order for it to become more acceptable and for people to understand what makes the family unit work,” she said.
Justine Roberts, the co-founder of Mumsnet, said despite the increase in stay-at-home fathers, men were still significantly less likely than women to be the main child carer in families.
“It would be nice to think that one day it will simply be a matter of individual couples' preferences that determines which parent downscales their career,” she said.
“For now children are still overwhelmingly seen as mothers' responsibility and it's women who tend to put their careers on hold to look after them, which in part explains the lack of women on boards and the gender pay gap."(By Louisa Peacock and Sam Marsden,23 Jan 2013)