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Stay-at-home Father Families: Family Functioning and Experiences of Non-traditional Gender Roles



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Jones, Catherine 


Social change over the last few decades has resulted in a dramatic increase in mothers in the paid workforce and increased paternal involvement in caregiving. This has led to a rise in families with male primary caregivers, including stay-at-home father families. Yet very little is known about the functioning of stay-at-home father families in comparison to other family forms. The aim of this thesis was, firstly, to examine parent wellbeing and family functioning in these families and, secondly, to explore the fathers’ motivations and experiences of their non-traditional gender role.
Data were obtained from a sample of 127 families in the UK; 41 stay-at-home father families, 45 stay-at-home mother families, and 41 dual-earner families. All families were two-parent heterosexual families who were either married or cohabiting. Sixty percent of the children were female and the average age of the children at interview was four-years, eight-months. Standardised semi-structured interviews were conducted with fathers and mothers, and questionnaire measures completed. Observational assessments were conducted with father-child and mother-child dyads. Data were also obtained from the children on their perspectives of their family life. In addition, teachers completed a standardised measure of child adjustment. The fathers’ experiences of their role were examined in depth by interview. Few differences were found with regards to parent psychological adjustment and couple functioning and parents across the three family types generally reported a high level of wellbeing, although a third of primary caregiver parents scored above the clinical cut-off for anxiety. With regard to quality of parenting and parent-child relationship, no differences were found between primary caregiving fathers and mothers, and the few differences found between fathers favoured stay-at-home fathers. Stay-at-home fathers did not differ in terms of conforming to masculine norms in comparison to the other fathers in the sample, and the children too showed comparable gendered play behaviours across all family types. Child adjustment did not differ between family types; instead, family processes were more influential. In particular, parenting stress was associated with significantly higher levels of child difficulties. Children rated their primary caregiver mothers as higher on emotional security than stay-at-home fathers.
Qualitative analyses illustrated that stay-at-home fathers and mothers adopted their roles in their family for a variety of reasons, including financial considerations and a desire to be the primary caregiver. A thematic analysis indicated that stay-at-home fathers engaged in meaning-making strategies to make sense of their non-traditional parenting role that simultaneously rejected and reinforced masculine ideals. Facing prejudice was common throughout the fathers’ narratives, although they also showed resilience to stigmatisation, reflecting the overall high level of wellbeing reported by the fathers. The implications for parents, policy and research are discussed.





Golombok, Susan


Stay-at-home father, Parenting, Child adjustment


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
ESRC (1645921)