NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former project manager Bob Short has a ready answer to describe which job is more difficult — his old post at Nuveen Investments or his current position as stay-at-home dad.
“This is harder,” said Short, one of the victims of a U.S. recession that has hit men harder than women in the job market.
The suburban Chicago father of three is part of a new wave of stay-at-home dads who lost jobs in the financial sector turmoil and now grapple full-time with making lunches, organizing playdates and chauffeuring children to activities.
Unemployment has affected more men than women, with men accounting for three out of every four U.S. jobs lost, and the number of families in which wives are primary breadwinners has jumped sharply since the recession began.
There’s no official tally of Wall Streeters turned at-home parents, and stay-at-home dads overall are hard to count because many will not admit it, said Ron Mattocks of Houston, a stay-at-home dad and former analyst for hedge funds.
“They say, ‘I’m out of work. I’m actively seeking work. It’s just a matter of time before I find a job and get things back on track the way they were before,’” said Mattocks, author of a stay-at-home dad blog and a soon-to-be-published book “Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka.”
In the first five months of this year, 5.4 percent of working wives had an unemployed husband, compared with an average 2.4 percent over the first five months of 2007 at the peak of the last economic cycle, according to economist Heather Boushey at the Center for American Progress.
TRADITIONALLY FEMALE AT-HOME PARENTING
Some 1 million U.S. families have a working wife, a child under 18 and an unemployed husband, the center said.
With so many jobs shed in occupations dominated by men, from Wall Street to construction, the switch to traditionally female at-home parenting can be jarring, said Andrea Doucet, professor of sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and author of “Do Men Mother?”
“It’s a challenge if someone gets the slip and is losing that traditional masculine identity,” she said.
The loss of identity is powerful, said Mattocks. “At home, you don’t get a performance review. There’s no happy hour at the end of the day for making a big deal, no making projections, not a lot of people saying ‘Thank you.’”
For dads from Wall Street, much depends on how much they got in so-called walkaway money, said Jeremy Smith, author of “The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family.”
With a big payoff, “they can tell themselves they’re in semi-retirement, they’re spending more time with family and they’re taking a break before getting back in the game,” he said.
But those burdened by debt face as many of the same, if not more, stresses than do unemployed fathers with less money, although their trappings may be far different, he said.
“People in the working class are accustomed to insecurity,” he said. “A lot of these guys might have gone to Ivy League schools, have MBAs and have more of a sense of entitlement about what to do with their lives.”
Short said the hardest part of being a stay-at-home dad is the “randomness” of his days after his job at Nuveen.
“There’s a lot of logistics to work out. Somebody’s at skating practice, somebody’s at gymnastics, somebody’s at soccer,” he said.
Roger Vandewater, who cared for two teenage sons in Duxbury, Massachusetts, after losing his job as a financial services database consultant in May, said he finds it much harder to concentrate with so many domestic interruptions.
“I thought I was going to have a little time on my hands to get things done around the house or work on my golf game,” he said. “None of that has happened yet.”
While Short said he would prefer a full-time paying job, he enjoys his new role. “It’s a window into life that most men never see,” he said.
Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Ed Stoddard in Dallas