There are more dads changing diapers than ever. But don’t assume that means millennial dads are the first generation to cover closer relationships with their kids.
While the statistic that only 3% of dads these days have never changed a diaper was used to claim that millennial dads are the first cohort to step up to the parenting plate, that’s just not the full story.
What’s the significance of dads changing diapers?
Dr. Laura King from the University of Warwick’s Centre for the History of Medicine responded to statistics about diaper-changing duties by saying we “shouldn’t make the assumption that fathers have only become more involved in looking after their children over the past 20 years,” according to Science Daily (cited below). However, their diaper-changing duties have become far more significant.
In 1982, 43% of dads said they had never changed a diaper. By 2000, it was just 3%. And by 2010, a study by the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit found that “65% of men helped ‘a great deal’ with diaper changing.”
Modern dads are older than we thought
However, after studying newspapers, social research, and interviews with fathers from the past, Dr. King was clear: “We must reject suggestions that close father-child relationships have only developed since the 1970s or even 1990s. The stereotype of the distant and tyrannical Victorian patriarch conceals substantial evidence of fathers who cared greatly for their children and played with them, educated them, and even nursed them.”
In fact, after the Second World War, fathers began showing much more interest in cultivating closer relationships with their kids. So if there’s a “modern dad,” he’s not a millennial – he’s a millennial’s grandfather or great-grandfather.
Of course, smaller family sizes and other social trends made this more realistic for families than ever before. So it’s not that men all just woke up one day and decided to play a bigger role in child-rearing.
When it comes to dads and diapers, Dr. King said that while there’s “a great deal of historical evidence showing that fathers have played a caring and nurturing role with their children for centuries…it does seem to have taken a while for the majority of fathers to take their turn in changing dirty diapers.