Census Bureau: Mom is Designated “Parent,” Dad is “Childcare Arrangement”

In a move that should frustrate advocates, mothers and fathers alike, the Census Bureau’s recently compiled “Who’s Minding The Kids?” report counts fathers staying home with their children as a “child care arrangement.” This puts fathers looking after their children – or what most people call parenting – in the same category as a working mother hiring a babysitter or sending her kids to day-care.

In an interview with a New York Times parenting blogger, Census Bureau representative Lynda Laughlin said, “Regardless of how much families have changed over the last 50 years women are still primarily responsible for work in the home,” adding that the Census Bureau is just trying to collect accurate data on how “designated parents” arrange care for their children while they’re at school or at work based on “gender norms.”

But many parents and advocates are finding this explanation insufficient. One blogger asks,

How hard is it to have a “designated parent” question? ‘Which parent is the designated/primary parent (i.e. the parent that provides the majority of child care)?’ That is literally one question, Census Bureau. I am sure you can ask one more question in order not to erase men who provide the primary care for their children, and not to paint fathers as glorified babysitters.

Further, the participation of fathers in the “child care arrangement” formerly known as “parenting” has been increasing rapidly since women entered the workforce, with 32% of children with working mothers being looked after full-time by their dads in 2010, as opposed to 26% in 2005. The leap from one in four fathers acting as a primary childcare provider to one in three, over the course of only five years, is absolutely significant.

But the Census Bureau undermines the good news by continuing to assign the label of “designated parent” to the woman in the house, for no statistically valid reason. It’s great to study “gender norms” and their evolution over time; it’s irresponsible to actively reinforce them in the process, and the United States’ biggest and most powerful data-collection agency should know better.

Over thirty percent of fathers are acting as primary caretakers for their children while their female partners work outside the home, and in 2012, few people doubt that many of those fathers’ daily childcare responsibilities ultimately exceed their partners. Haven’t those fathers earned at least the option of naming themselves “designated parent” when the Census Bureau inquires about childcare trends?

If the Census Bureau really wants to know “Who’s Minding The Kids?”, they should add another question to their forms and let parents volunteer the information without being pigeonholed – not to mention insulted – by old-school gendered assumptions.

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