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Of the 12.2 million American children under the age of five whose mothers are in the paid workforce, nearly a third (32 percent) are "regularly" cared for by their fathers, compared with 26 percent nine years ago.
Which hardly means that fathers come close to mothers in the numbers that are the primary or regular caregivers for their children. Still, if the goal is eventual parity at home and work, this is a small (but statistically significant) step in the right direction. Right?
On the one hand, the reason for the increase in fathers as caregivers is not that men have "opted out" of the workforce in swarms, motivated by a new yearning to be with their children. Most of them left their jobs because they lost them. The Great Recession was dubbed the "Mancession" by economists, because it fell far harder on men than women. Another of its results -- that women now account for 50 percent of all workers for the first time in history -- is a similarly unclear "victory." Women caught up not because they sped up, but rather because men slowed down. I'm not sure that counts as progress.
And yet, change is born of new norms. If you see something often enough, it becomes what you expect to see. The more we see fathers staying home with children, whatever their reasons, the more accepted it becomes for fathers to be at home with children. Dads who are clearly involved, whether by choice or by circumstance, lead us to eventually assume that's just what Dads do. The more men are "regular" caregivers, the more they will be perceived as such -- even presumed to be such -- and the freer they will be to take on that role.