NEW ORLEANS – People who take the plunge into parenthood, or simply embrace the idea of having children, are more likely to support socially conservative ideas, a new study finds.
The published analysis of more than 2,600 people in 10 different countries finds that those who are already parents tend to hold conservative views on abortion, sex and immigration. The connection was further strengthened by archival data from 400,000 people in 88 countries showing that conservative leanings are reinforced when people have more children.
Even study participants whose feedback included positive interactions with children or optimism about the idea of parenthood tended to have more conservative opinions on social issues.
Tulane University research challenges a common American political narrative: people become more conservative as they age. When the effects of parenthood were controlled for in the study, older people without children were no more conservative than younger people. Stepping into single parenthood was the more crucial factor.
“Becoming a parent can have psychological effects that you don’t expect,” study lead author Damian Murray, associate professor of psychology at the Tulane School of Science and Engineering, said in a statement. “We often talk about how parents will shape their children’s attitudes, but we also need to recognize how easy it is to have children who shape their parents’ attitudes.”
Corresponding study author Nick Kerry, PhD, a Tulane alumnus who is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, adds, “Because socially conservative values are said to prioritize safety, stability, and family values, we hypothesized that being a parent or being more invested in parenting diligence might make socially conservative politics more attractive. Parental status and the motivation for parental care have been strongly associated with social conservatism in many different countries, from Lebanon to Japan.”
The study authors reiterated that the link between parenting and conservatives is global and not just an American political phenomenon.
Previous studies have linked parenting styles to conservative or liberal political leanings. Earlier this year, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that having a “helicopter” parent could mean your child is conservative-leaning. While a “field explorer” parenting style led to children adopting a more liberal lifestyle later in life.
But this latest research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that adults who choose to raise children may already be leaning toward the political right. However, the study’s authors acknowledge that many parents who don’t identify as conservative may disagree with their findings.
“Of course, this is a big claim, and big claims require large amounts of evidence,” he said. “We have now tested this possibility in several investigations and tried to prove the idea wrong in countless ways. We have controlled for every variable that we or others can think of that might account for the link between parenting and social conservatism. But the relationship remains. We are currently conducting further research to better understand all of the different ways in which our parenting motivations are manifested.”