Stay-at-home dads still rare in Australia, study finds

The childcare minefield

If you don't talk about it, it doesn't exist. That seems to the election mantra of both parties when it comes to the dreaded childcare debate.

Clint Greagen's decision to become a stay-at-home dad to his four sons made perfect sense for his family, but he acknowledges the choice makes him a rarity among families.

The 43-year-old gave up his job as a youth worker 10 years ago to allow his wife Tania Pizzari to focus on her physiotherapy practice while he concentrated on child-rearing.

"I was happy to stay at home," he said. "It made sense for our family."

Clint Greagen and his four sons: Maki, 5, Tyson, 8, Lewis, 10, and Archie, 12.
Clint Greagen and his four sons: Maki, 5, Tyson, 8, Lewis, 10, and Archie, 12.  Photo: Eddie Jim

Now father to Archie, 12, Lewis, 10, Tyson, 8, and Maki, 5, Mr Greagen is surprised by how few families take the same path.

While the public perception is that stay-at-home dads are on the rise, new data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies show they comprise a small proportion of two-parent families with children under 15 – accounting for 4 per cent of families – compared with stay-at-home-mother families, which account for 31 per cent.

Mr Greagen said the playground could be a lonely place for the stay-at-home dad, and he's worn the brunt of ill-informed assumptions.

"When I told people I was going to stop working to look after the kids, their eyebrows would shoot up," said the Melbourne father, whose experiences spawned a blog and a book.

"I'd get comments like, 'You must be under the thumb', or, 'It must be great just staying at home every day.' People didn't really acknowledge it's a big job looking after kids.

"Those sort of attitudes deter men from staying home. It was pretty rare to see other dads at school drop-offs. Even now I still get strange looks."


The AIFS research shows that rather than being "Mr Mum", stay-at-home dads are vastly different to stay-at-home mums, with many making the decision out of necessity rather than choice.

"For many, becoming a stay-at-home dad is an economic decision, driven by unemployment, underemployment or disability and not a lifestyle choice," AIFS director Anne Hollonds said.

"The fathers tend to be older, with older children, and they don't tend to pick up the full domestic workload to the same extent that stay-at-home mothers traditionally have."

In stay-at-home dad families, mothers spend an average of 35 hours a week in paid work and 44 hours on housework and child care, while fathers spend 47 hours on housework and child care, the research found.

In stay-at-home mum families, fathers spend an average of 51 hours a week in paid work and 26 hours on housework and child care, while the mothers devote 74 hours to housework and child care.

"They are doing a lot less than the stay-at-home mums but that's not a criticism of stay-at-home dads," AIFS senior research fellow Jennifer Baxter said.

"Their circumstances are quite different. Stay-at-home mums tend to be looking after much younger children, so the child-care demands are really great.

"Dads aren't often in that situation. The stay-at-home dads do tend to have older children who are more independent, so they're not spending as much time on housework and child care."