Does Parenting Make People More Conservative?

Politics Twitter was abuzz last week with more data about generational trends in politics. Findings from the US and UK suggest millennials may be the first generation that doesn’t become more conservative with age.

If the numbers add up, we are in uncharted territory. But one mooted explanation for this is the link between parenthood and conservatism. 

Conservatives are more likely to have children. They are also less likely to support laws and policies they associate with sexual permissiveness: access to contraception, abortion and divorce. Even prejudices toward homosexuality tie into this, given conservative preferences for the nuclear family.

For this reason, US psychologists claimed in a recent study that “most of the positive association globally between age and social conservatism is accounted for by parenthood.” Prompted by cute baby pics, test subjects (US college students) became more conservative in response to subsequent questions about “homosexuality,” “divorce,” “abortion,” “sex before marriage,” “casual sex” and “prostitution,” as study authors put it.

The subjects even became more supportive of in-group policies and more suspicious of the out-group. Positive views of immigration went down and support for “national security” went up in the baby-brained students.

Study authors say these values match the biases held by parents, on average, worldwide. Data were drawn from the World Values Survey.

All of this may account for a part of the more progressive attitudes among the millennial generation. Just 55% of millennials – defined here at 23 to 38 year-olds currently live with a spouse and/or child and just 30% live with a spouse and child (or children), lower than any prior generation at the same age.

Of course, there are many more factors at play in life that can be modelled in a psychologist’s lab. Labor campaign strategist Kos Samaras argues that parental conservatism is dependent on parents’ degree of financial stress. 

“The less capacity parents have to deal with cost living pressures and take care of their kids,” says Samaras, “the more conservative they become, and less tolerant and engaging on social issues.”

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Feature image courtesy of @paige_cody via Unsplash.

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