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By Ian Simpson and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - The number of U.S. fathers staying at home nearly doubled since the late 1980s, led by a sharp rise in child care by dads, a report on Thursday showed.
High joblessness during the 2007-2009 recession helped boost the number of stay-at-home dads to 2 million in 2012, up from 1.1 million in 1989, the report by the Pew Research Center said.
Almost a quarter of those fathers said they were at home because they could not find a job. But 21 percent were mainly staying home to care for family, a fourfold increase from 1989, the Pew report showed.
Senior researcher Gretchen Livingston said the findings underscored experts' belief that gender roles between men and women were converging, with men taking on more caregiving tasks and women increasingly becoming breadwinners.
"This increase in the number and share of stay-at-home dads would certainly fit with that," she said.
One sign of convergence is that the amount of time that fathers are spending with their children has tripled since the 1980s, she said.
Michael Gariepy, a 34-year-old resident of Sanford, Florida, decided to stay home to raise his son after he was laid off several years ago and took a less appealing job in customer service, shortly before his wife was due to give birth.
"It didn't make sense to have someone else raise our child when we could cut back on our expenses and ... get to raise our child," said Gariepy, who decided to return to school at night.
As he considers returning to the work force now that his son is 21 months old, Gariepy faces the question of whether he will be able to earn enough to cover child care expenses and commuting costs and still justify the change for his family.
"The salary I was making, when you account for daycare and gas and lunch all the things associated with traveling to work and having a child, it boiled down to about $100 to $200 a week," Gariepy said.
The Pew report showed that the biggest share of stay-at-home fathers, or 35 percent, was out of the workforce due to illness or disability. That percentage was far below the 56 percent share in 1989.
Fathers who did not work outside the home were twice as likely to lack a high school diploma as working fathers, at 22 percent versus 10 percent.
Almost half of stay-at-home dads were living in poverty, compared with 8 percent of working fathers.
The rise in stay-at-home fathers was taking place at the same time as more fathers were not living with their children. About 16 percent of fathers with young children lived apart from all of them, the Pew report said.
The Pew report covered fathers who lived with children younger than 18 and was based on Census Bureau data. (Editing by Scott Malone, Sandra Maler, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)