In “State of America’s Fathers,” researchers take a critical look at what fatherhood means for United States families

Today, we’re launching the country’s first State of America’s Fathers report – a landmark analysis of fatherhood.

Fathers in the United States are more involved than ever before, but gender equality, child development, and the wealth of the nation rely on advancing this movement, finds the first ever State of America’s Fathers report.

"State of America's Fathers" report cover.There is a tale of two fatherhoods in the United States. High-income dads are championed for playing active roles in their children’s lives and they’re getting headlines, while low-income dads, many nonresident, are often either valued or stigmatized simply by their ability to pay their way. America is in urgent need of policies and support so that all fathers can realize their roles as fully engaged, fully equal caregivers, argues inaugural nationwide fatherhood report.

There is a fatherhood revolution going on in the United States (U.S.). Men are doing – and are expected to do – more of the childcare and housework than ever before. This revolution of involved fatherhood has the power to advance gender equality, improve childhood development outcomes, and raise the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by several hundred billion dollars, by enabling women to work outside the home at the same rate as men do. Despite this, the U.S. is not doing enough to support or advance the movement – in part because, until now, there has not been a clear or accurate national picture of the state of American fatherhood. This is revealed in the first ever State of America’s Fathers (SOAF) report, a landmark analysis of fatherhood unveiling preliminary, never-before-published data from the Families and Work Institute’s National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW).

As the U.S. turns to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday, June 19, the SOAF report reveals that this fatherhood revolution is a highly unequal one. A tale of two fathers cuts down socioeconomic lines. At one end of the spectrum, society increasingly encourages upper-middle- and upper-income fathers to be highly engaged with their children – with many Fortune 500 companies offering the paid parental leave to back this up. On the other end, low-income dads have the least access to paid leave in the country: 95% of low-wage workers do not have the option of taking paid family leave through their employers’ policies for the birth of a child or to care for a seriously ill family member. New data from the report reveals that one aspect which unites across lines is the inability of parents to manage their work and family responsibilities: the majority of parents (63%) who work from 35 to 40 hours a week, and nearly three quarters (73%) of those who work over 40 hours a week (at all jobs) feel that they do not spend enough time with their children.

The unprecedented size of the U.S. prison system also causes undue financial difficulties for low-income families. Over 11% of U.S. men will go to prison at some point in their lives, and due to racial biases and other factors, today more than 60% of those who have been in prison are people of color. In total, 2.7 million children in the U.S. have a parent who is incarcerated, and 92% of incarcerated parents are fathers. As such, harsh sentencing laws (particularly for nonviolent offenses) are harmful for children, as well as being racially unjust.

In addition, SOAF finds that children in the U.S. are now more likely than ever to live outside of the traditional heterosexual, two-parent household. The decline of marriage, the rise of cohabitation, and the perception of divorce as a less stigmatized option mean that the “traditional” family is no longer a reality, with as many as 50% of children in the U.S. now spending some portion of their childhood years living in single-parent households.

Over the past 30 years, U.S. fathers have increased the time they spend with their children during the workday by nearly a third (65%). Both men and women are more interested in sharing childcare responsibilities than ever, and less than half of men (40%) agree that it is much better for everyone involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children. In addition, despite a pervasive stigma of nonresident fathers as absent fathers or worse, deadbeat dads, research also shows that most nonresident fathers are consistently very active in the lives of their children.

The State of America’s Fathers report reveals that women and men alike are in need of policies and support so that fathers can realize their roles as fully engaged, fully equal caregivers. However, the U.S. is unique among high-income nations in its failure to guarantee paid leave to new parents, and 40% of American workers find themselves ineligible for the 12 weeks of unpaid leave offered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For those who are eligible, taking leave that isn’t paid often isn’t financially possible. Additionally, extreme rates of incarceration and high child-support demands on low-income fathers underscore a need to reframe the conversation on economically marginalized, nonresident fathers’ contributions to their children’s lives.

The State of America’s Fathers outlines key recommendations for action. These include:

  • The need for national legislation to provide for paid, equal, and non-transferable leave for mothers and fathers of newborns: noting that even as much as 12 or 16 weeks – can generally be paid for by both mothers and fathers through an estimated payroll tax of about 1%.
  • It calls for the U.S. government to provide the poorest fathers and families with a living wage, to reform the justice system, and to provide additional services that encourage and support their caregiving – including an Earned Income Tax Credit for nonresident fathers who pay child support.
  • It posits that joint physical custody of children after a relationship or marital breakdown should be pursued when it is in the best interest of the child, and in cases where there is no history or threat of violence.
  • It notes that building on a foundation of reproductive justice, supportive programs and services – which include comprehensive sexuality education and quality reproductive health services – can support individuals to plan when and how they want to have children.
  • It calls for workplaces to value what parents do as caregivers as much as they value their professional achievements; for more men to join the HEAL (health, education, administration, and literacy) professions; and for children to learn the value of caregiving from young ages in order to help accelerate social shifts toward greater acceptance and valuing of caregiving qualities in all genders.

Gary Barker, President and CEO of Equimundo, says: “What our report and our new data show is this: women and men want the policies and the support so that all parents can be full-on, fully engaged, fully equal caregivers. We also confirm that implementing paid leave is far less costly than often thought; and that when implemented alongside income support to low-income fathers and parents, these policies pay for themselves in increased productivity and happier, healthier families. What are we waiting for?”

Read the report and learn more at