Stay-at-home fathers on the rise

The number of full-time fathers is rising, but more can still be done to support fathers in taking on a more active role in childcare

Fighting tradition and stigma, there are now more fathers in Singapore who are primary caregivers to their children.

The number of stay-at-home fathers is growing slowly but steadily, according to a study by Ms Yvonne Arivalagan, Research Associate with the Institute of Policy Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS. However, she feels that more can be done to incentivise them.

Ms Arivalagan interviewed 21 stay-at-home fathers and nine of their spouses to understand how fathers performed their parenting roles at home. The fathers interviewed in 2018, were Singaporeans or permanent residents, mainly Chinese or Caucasians from middle or high-income families, aged between 29 and 67 who had spent an average of six years as stay-at-home dads.

She said the purpose of her study was to see how a more enabling environment could be created to support fathers in taking on a more active role in childcare. This could lead to more people willing to start families and hence alleviate Singapore’s fertility crisis, she added. Her study revealed that stay-at-home fathers were appreciated by their spouses who were happier with their married life  they were less stressed and experienced less severe post-natal depression.

Reasons why dads stay at home

Many of the fathers interviewed by Ms Arivalagan said they did not actively assume the role of primary caregiver to their children. Difficulty in finding a job was one of the reasons they ended up as stay-at-home fathers. In some cases, the spouses were earning more.

They also believed that parents should raise their own children instead of putting them in the hands of foreign domestic helpers, childcare centres or grandparents. However many felt they were not as good as their wives in this regard. They also experienced “acute stigma” from society, friends and even parents-in-law who would accuse them of “wasting” their potential or “mooching” off their wives. There was also a lack of support from employers and co-workers.

Policy recommendations to better support fathers

Ms Arivalagan proposed several policy changes, including providing some form of tax relief to fathers who are primary caregivers to their children. Extending paternity leave would also signal that fathers have a role to play in childcare. Currently, the two-week paternity leave is not enough for newbie dads to develop skills and confidence in caring for a child.

In Singapore, working fathers may share up to four weeks of the 16 weeks given to their wives for maternity leave. Ms Arivalagan recommended that separate blocks of parental leave be provided instead.

“Increasing paternity leave to a period of six months, for instance, could be more advantageous for employers than the current entitlement of two weeks. Introducing a paternity cover policy where a temporary employee or contractor is hired for a six-month period while a staff member is on paternity leave could minimise gaps in output during a staff member’s absence and can furthermore be planned for in advance,” Ms Arivalagan proposed.

The study, which took three years to complete, was funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development under the Social and Family Research Fund.


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