How Do Today’s Dads Differ From Prior Generations?

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If you’ve ever watched a sitcom from the 80s, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that the only thing dads back then did was drink beer and crack wise after a hard day’s work. The concept of fatherhood, however, has changed dramatically since then, and new dads these days are far more involved in the lives of their children.

Gender roles are breaking down at breakneck speeds, and dads these days are more than willing to rise to the challenge. We examine these many changes in this article and discuss how dads these days differ from prior generations.

In it, Right From the Get-Go

A recent study by Cornell University highlighted the fact that fathers who take longer paternal leave tend to be more involved and engaged in the lives of their children. This type of data particularly highlights the difference between dads from different generations.

It would have been quite a strange request for dads in the 50s and 60s even to consider taking paternity leave, let alone to think about how deeply it would help them engage with their children.

Parenting, especially for fathers, has changed from being a hands-free experience to a hands-on experience over the years.

Fathers previously would not be seen anywhere near the birthing room floor. Instead, they would be in the waiting room, quite literally waiting for the good news from the nurse or doctor.

The Lamaze technique only came up during the 1950s, and it wasn’t adopted by both genders whole-heartedly until the 60s and 70s because it required fathers to be a lot more involved in the birthing process.

Dads today, on the other hand, are heavily involved in the pregnancy and birth of their babies. They’ll attend classes with their partner, shop for furniture for the nursery, hold mom’s hand during labor, cut the umbilical cord, and do skin-to-skin with the little one.

The involvement levels of fathers have transformed quite drastically over the years, with dads keeping themselves in the loop well before the baby is even born.

dad changing baby

Taking on the Dirty Work

If you’ve ever wanted proof that fathers today are far more hands-on than previous generations, then you need to look no further than the statistics in the one department where contributions truly matter—changing dirty diapers.

According to three different studies from three different eras, it’s clear that fathers today don’t shy away from putting their money where their mouth is and actually contribute to changing diapers.

The numbers are indeed shocking! We break them down below:

  • In 1982, 43 percent of fathers admitted to never having changed a diaper.
  • In 2000, this figure had dropped down to just 3 percent.
  • By 2010, the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit noted that 65 percent of men contribute a great deal when it comes to changing diapers. 

In under four decades, fathers in the US went from loathing diapers to embracing diaper changes in a big way. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Millennial Dads

Millennial dads are known to be vastly different from the baby boomer generation in many aspects of fatherhood. For one, the paternity leave rate has multiplied by nearly four times when compared to dads from even the 1990s.

Fathers today don’t just want to be involved in the birthing process; they still very much have skin in the game once the child is born. They’re known to spend three times more time with their kids when compared to dads from previous generations.

This involves taking kids from various classes, spending quality time playing with them, and even engaging in the learning and development process.

Stay at Home Dads

Another category of dads to have only sprung into existence in the recent past in shocking numbers are the stay-at-home dads. While the number virtually didn’t exist during the 50s and 60s, more and more fathers began to become comfortable with the idea of not working out of the home during the 80s. 

By 1989, it was reported that 1.1 million men were officially fathers who take care of children without working outside of the home. By 2012, this number was up to 2 million!

Talk about gender role reversals! It wasn’t too long ago when women were supposed to be the designated homemakers while men were considered the sole breadwinners of a family. Even the mere suggestion of shifting this dynamic was deemed to be blasphemous!

Women had little to no say in what was to be done once a child was born. It would be their role to take care of the little one and give up their careers if they were even lucky enough to have one.

Such an uninspired worldview has, fortunately, come crashing down in more developed countries, thanks to the countless protests by feminists over the years and the willingness of modern fathers to accept new roles in the family dynamic.

Being a stay-at-home dad would have been considered a sign of weakness, almost anti-manly in nature a few decades ago. This point of view has shifted considerably, with men being more than willing to give up their full-time job to take care of children if that ever becomes necessary.

On the whole, more families have two working parents than ever before. Both parents can contribute to the child-rearing process without having to give up on their dreams and ambitions.

Children also have a well-rounded childhood while being close to both parents instead of only having a primary caregiver.

Different Dads

As the shape and structure of modern families begins to transform, we see more stepdads and divorced dads than ever before. Not too long ago, there was only one paternal figure in the lives of children around the world, and he wasn’t very involved most of the time either.

These new dads are keenly aware of their roles in the lives of the child and are attempting to be the best version of themselves for the sake of the children. Stepdads and divorced single dads are very aware of their unique new roles in society, and most of them play their part to perfection.

Look around your own life, and you’ll see tons of great role models within each of these categories. Great dads were a rarity earlier, and now they’re thankfully a dime a dozen!

dad playing with baby

Hunter to Father

The transformation of a human males’ journey from being a hunter-gatherer a few thousand years ago to becoming a millennial dad has truly been a mind-boggling one.

It has involved the reinvention of the male persona, a re-examination of gender stereotypes, a reimagining of the family structure, and a recreation of what it means to be a father.

Fathers today have dropped the schtick of being the sole provider of a family and have coagulated into becoming an integral part of a two-parent team. They’re willing to share equal parts of every responsibility and have accepted that there’s no skill that either parent excels at. 

Families are now closer than ever before, and the bonds between members are tighter than they have possibly been since our days as cave people. 

All it took was for fathers to get their acts together!

Howard is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Kristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.