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Dad’s Day Is Much Busier Than 50 Years Ago

Carl Poff attends a tea party with his daughter Joselyn, 4, in their playroom. The girls love to have tea parties about once a week, Poff said.
Brandon Goodwin | TODAY
Carl Poff attends a tea party with his daughter Joselyn, 4, in their playroom. The girls love to have tea parties about once a week, Poff said.

If there's one word we might use to describe modern fatherhood, it would be busy.

In an average week, dads are spending nearly triple as much time on direct child care and more than double the time on housework as their fathers or grandfathers did in the 1960s, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the Census Bureau data on how Americans spend their time.

They're no slouches at the home, office, farm or factory, either. If they have a job, chances are they are putting in more than 40 hours at work, too.

"Fathers are much more involved today in their children's lives than they were five decades ago," said Wendy Wang, a research associate at Pew Research Center who co-authored the comprehensive report on parenting.

The shift has come as more moms have started working, though that's not necessarily what has moved dads to be take on more child-rearing duties.

(Read More: No Paid Time Off? Welcome to 'No-Vacation Nation')

Instead, Fred Van Deusen, senior research associate at the Boston College Center for Work and Family, said his research has shown that many dads want very much to be involved in their kids' lives. In fact, they'd like to spend even more time with their children, but they also feel the demand to succeed at work.

"There's still a lot of societal pressure on dads to be breadwinners," Van Deusen said.

The Pew analysis found that in 2011, men with children under 18 in the home spent an average 7.3 hours a week on direct child care, which would include things such as changing diapers and helping with homework. That compares with an average of 2.5 hours in 1965.

Meanwhile, they spent an average of 9.8 hours a week on housework in 2011, up from about four hours a week in 1965.

Dads also worked an average of 37.1 hours a week in 2011, compared with about 42 hours in 1965. Wang said the hourly decrease is mainly due to a decline in the number of dads working—because of the weak job market and other factors—compared with 1965. The total average includes dads who aren't working at all.

Looking more narrowly, only at dads who are employed, they worked 41.4 hours a week on average in 2011, down from 43 hours in 2007.

(Read More: The Inflation of Life—Cost of Raising a Child Soars)

In total, fathers spend about five hours more per week on child care, housework and paid work than they did in the 1960s.

Nevertheless, women still do much more child care and housework, while dads do more paid work.

Carl Poff of Easton, Pa., makes one of his daughter's beds on Thursday, June 14, 2013. Part of Poff's daily routine is to make beds and clean up the house whenever he is off work.
Brandon Goodwin | TODAY
Carl Poff of Easton, Pa., makes one of his daughter's beds on Thursday, June 14, 2013. Part of Poff's daily routine is to make beds and clean up the house whenever he is off work.

"There is still a significant gap … even though we see the roles of moms and dads are converging," Wang said.

The fact that both are busier comes as no surprise to Carl Poff of Easton, Pa.

Poff, 42, jokes that he has about 40 minutes of free time a day—which would be his commute to and from his job as a corrections officer.

One recent afternoon, he finished up his shift at the jail and immediately hopped in his car to go pick up his 7-year-old stepdaughter from the bus stop. From there, it was off to his in-laws to gather his 4-year-old daughter, followed by a quick stop at the grocery store before getting homework done, making dinner and getting the girls to T-ball.

His wife typically gets home between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., after a day that includes at least two hours commuting to and from her job at the corporate offices of a major telecommunications company. They have dinner and get some quality time with the kids before bed. After the children are asleep, the two turn to other chores.

"It's just how our schedule works," Poff said.

His wife, Jennifer, 34, said the household wouldn't function if they didn't have a partnership in which Carl regularly did things such as laundry, making lunches and ferrying the kids to sports practice.

"It's just part of him being a dad," she said. "That's what he does."

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Still, Jennifer said Carl's daily involvement in things such as picking up her daughter at the bus stop is unusual in their neighborhood, where other women often compliment her for finding such a helpful mate.

"A lot of dads don't do that, and I, like, absolutely love him for it," she said.

Chances are, Jennifer also is busier than moms were in 1965.

In an average week in 2011, modern moms actually spent more time on child care than they did in 1965: 13.5 hours a week, on average, compared with about 10 hours a week in 1965.

They also spent about 21 hours a week at paid work, up from about eight hours in 1965. But the amount of time moms spent on housework fell by nearly half, to an average of 18 hours a week from 31 hours in 1965.

Even as dads are taking on more responsibility around the house, Van Deusen, the Boston College researcher, said societal expectations about roles have been slow to change. That could explain why, even now, relatively few fathers stay home full-time.

There were about 189,000 stay-at-home dads to kids under 15 last year, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau. That compares with more than 5 million stay-at-home moms with kids under 15.

Van Deusen, who has studied stay-at-home dads extensively, said that many couples decide the husband should stay home because he makes less money, and were happy with the arrangement.

"It turned out it was working pretty well for them, but the people around them had a lot more difficulties than they did," Van Deusen said.

— By CNBC's Allison Linn. Reach her by email or follow her on Twitter, @AllisonDLinn.

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