Historically, when it came to job 1, Dad’s role was a given. He was the guy who “brought home the bacon.” He pro- vided his family with the much needed economic means to make all other family objectives possible – from the basic necessities of food and shelter, to the longer term, more strategic investments in funding children’s college educations and mom and dad’s retirement.
But times have changed. In May, 2013, an attention- grabbing N.Y. Times headline, “What are fathers for?” highlighted the findings of a Pew Research Center study that found that women were the primary breadwinners in 40% of US households. Does this finding undermine the assumption that providing financially is a father’s primary role? And how do fathers see themselves with regard to their historical role as breadwinner?
Perhaps the most important detail behind the headline was glossed over, that in 5 out of 8 of the households where the mother was the primary breadwinner, she was also the only adult present. In homes where an unmarried woman is the sole breadwinner, the family’s average income is only $23,000 a year. More than half of the children in these homes live in poverty. Glossing over this fact ignores the importance of having fathers in the picture. The female breadwinners who were living with and earning more than their husbands are in an entirely different income bracket; their median household income is $80,000. And for the remaining 60% of U.S. families where the woman is not the primary breadwinner, clearly fathers are extremely important financial providers.
But that does not mean that fathers today see their role solely or primarily as breadwinners. In our 2011 study: The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted, fathers were asked to identify where they fell on the continuum between providing for their families’ financial needs and their families’ emotional and physical needs. The result was that more than 2/3 believed the two were equally weighted – they did not see themselves primarily as finan- cial providers as one might expect. In fact, less than 5% of the fathers reported that they saw their role as being a financial provider alone.
According to a May, 2015 article in The Shriver Report, The 21st century American man prioritizes personal success with family, and being present to be a good father, husband, son or friend, over financial independence, professional success, or leaving a legacy. Three in five of today’s men named personal achievement at home as the marker of success, with financial success and independence coming in a distant second at only 24%. Younger American men, those 18-49, are more likely to prize being present, while older American men, those over age 50, cite the importance of being a provider.