A New Face to Babysitting

Kristen Mascarenhas

What’s the first image that pops into your mind when you think of a babysitter? Most people would state a teenage girl. In fact, a popular example would be Kari, Jack-Jack’s babysitter from The Incredibles. Kari is the stereotypical babysitter, a teenage girl complete with braces. But why are teenage boys or even men not commonly thought of as babysitters?

According to the economic blog Priceonomics, less than 3% of babysitters are men. This staggering statistic accounts for the fact that many Americans associate babysitting with females. This leads me to my next question: why is the supply and demand for male babysitters so low?

Professor and author Miriam Forman-Brunell reveals that male babysitters were actually more popular than female babysitters in the twentieth century, as young boys needed male role models when their fathers left for war. With far more education than girls at the time, male babysitters were in high demand for the knowledge they would impart on the children. Forman-Brunell’s most surprising revelation is the “Tiger Tot Tending Agency”, a Princeton-run organization started in 1946 in which “college boys babysat for the children of faculty members and married students for thirty-five cents an hour.” So what led to the demise of male babysitters?

Not only until about fifty years ago, did the association of babysitting with females begin. According to social custom, women, the child-bearers, were responsible for the home and children, while men were responsible for work. While this idea has mostly changed in America as women now hold a more equal position in the workforce, women are still considered to be more nurturing because of their roles as mothers. This nurturing nature is always an important quality in babysitters, and therefore explains why babysitting is dominated by females.

Bella Mendoza ’18 said, “I’ve never had a boy babysitter.” She is not alone, as a large majority of the current generation has also never experienced male babysitting. Although she admits it’s against the stereotype, she is not close-minded to the idea of a male babysitter.

Isa Estrada ’18 said, “If I knew that he was responsible and I knew his family, then I would be fine with it.” However, if given the choice between a female and a male babysitter without previous knowledge of the person, both Mendoza and Estrada showed no hesitation in choosing a girl.

There are signs, however, that the popularity of male babysitters may once again rise. The few parents who have had agreeable experiences with male babysitters have noted the new perspective boys bring to caretaking and a child’s development. Lynn Perkins, CEO and co-founder of UrbanSitter.com, advises parents to hire “mitters” (male babysitters), asserting, “[male babysitters] bring diversity to your child’s life and allows you to do your part to breakdown gender biases.”

She credits mitters with proving to children that men can also be nurturing, an important concept for children to comprehend. In addition, the U.S. may catch on to the au-pair trend in Europe, in which caretakers, both male and female, are hired to live with host families overseas to babysit the children in exchange for a free stay in a new country. Already in the United States, foreign male au pairs have been highly successful in the athletic and outdoor playing realm of babysitting according to InterExchange Au Pair USA data. This recognition may help once again popularize male babysitting and change the face of caretaking in children’s minds.