By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - The number of U.S. fathers who are staying at home has 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 say they are at home because they cannot find a job. But 21 percent are mainly staying home to care for family, a four-fold 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 care giving tasks and women increasingly 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.
The Pew report showed that the biggest share of stay-at-home fathers, or 35 percent, is out of the workforce due to illness or disability. That percentage is far below the 56 percent share in 1989.
Fathers who do not work outside the home are 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 are 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 live 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. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Sandra Maler)