Pew Research Center

Politics and parenting: Where liberals and conservatives find common ground

Conservatives and liberals emphasize different values when it comes to child rearing. But a new Pew Research survey shows that they also find common ground when it comes to the top three values.

Amid the growing political polarization of the US, the Pew Research Center has released a survey today that shows liberals and conservatives have common ground, at least when it comes to parenting.

Even the most divergent political ideologists agree that of 12 core values to teach our kids the top three should be - responsibility, hard work, and good manners.

 It’s worth pointing out that this was a nationally representative panel of 3,243 randomly selected U.S. adults surveyed online and by mail – but these are not necessarily parents.

 I point this out because my ideals and goals before having children – and after the reality of having four boys – were radically altered by the very nature of child-rearing and how it alerts us to reality vs. ideology.

 For example, as a college student I didn’t value empathy and tolerance nearly as much as I do after having four kids who test those qualities in me daily.

“Teaching the Children: Sharp Ideologies, some common ground” conducted April 29-May 27 asked adults about the importance of teaching 12 different qualities to children.

Those surveyed were asked to choose the three traits that are most important, according to the Pew website

The 12 core values are: Empathy for others, Helping others, Obedience, Religious Faith, Persistence, Being Well-Mannered, Independence, Being Responsible, Hard Work, Creativity, Tolerance and Curiosity.

According to the study “responsibility” was the greatest common denominator between respondents when it comes to child rearing, no matter what part of the political spectrum they choose.

Of those surveyed 95 percent of women and 91 percent of men responded that teaching kids to be responsible was in the top three priorities for them as parents.

Beyond these three values, the conservative-liberal divide begins to assert itself when it comes to child-rearing values.

The Pew study says that those “who express consistently conservative political attitudes across a range of issues are more likely than other ideological groups to rate teaching religious faith as especially important – and the least likely to say the same about teaching tolerance.”

Those with consistent liberal attitudes, the study says, “stand out for the high priority they give to teaching tolerance – and the low priority they attach to teaching religious faith and obedience.”

A smaller gender divide

What I found interesting was that men and women overall remained fairly close in their parenting preferences, generally within less than a 10-point range of each other.

For "manners," 86 percent of women and 81 percent of men found that to be an important value. Most of the other point spreads were similar with the exception of “Empathy for Others” where women came in at 75 percent and men at just 81 percent.

"Curiosity" provided a dead heat with 59 percent of both men and women determining that to be an important core value.

Racial divides

The study notes also that black Americans surveyed place a higher importance on teaching children religious faith than whites or Hispanics. Pew notes that reflects the higher levels of religious practice and commitment among African Americans compared to the public as a whole.

Blacks are also somewhat more likely than whites to place importance on teaching children to be obedient – 70% say this is important, compared with 57% of whites.

While this Pew study sheds some light on how our different world views shape what values adults think are important to teach children, the most practical information may be understanding where liberal and conservative parents might find common ground on core values. And that's always welcome in the parenting community.

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