It seems like becoming more conservative (along with taking ibuprofen every morning and staring at your forehead lines in the mirror) is just part of the aging process. One might assume that the overall process of getting older and living longer could be why some people appear to tilt to the right over the years, but new research suggests that may not actually be the case.
Tulane University researchers have found that people who don’t have children tend to be more socially liberal than their parents, and argue that it’s actually having babies that makes people tilt to the right for more than just age.
“There’s this idea that as you get older you become more conservative because you have experience and you get bitten by the real world,” said Dr. Nick Kerry, co-author of the study. “But that doesn’t seem to be the case. If you look at people who aren’t parents, you just don’t see an age difference.”
The study could also shed light on why many countries are seeing falling birth rates. “I think it could help liberalize those countries,” Kerry said.
Kerry and other researchers, published in the academic journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, after surveying 2,610 people in 10 countries, reported that people who are already parents or had a greater desire to be parents are socially conservatistic perform better.
Another part of the research study used archival data from over 400,000 people in 88 countries to support this link between parenting and conservatism.
In another experiment, 376 university students in the US were divided into two groups. One group was shown pictures of household items and asked to talk about how they might use them, while the other group was shown pictures of children and asked to think about possible names and positive interactions with children. Both groups then completed a survey on views on issues such as abortion and traditional marriage.
The team found that participants who spent time imagining time with a child gave more socially conservative responses than those who thought about household items.
“Given that socially conservative values are said to prioritize security, stability, and family values, we hypothesized that parenthood, or greater investment in parental care, might make socially conservative policies more attractive,” said corresponding author Nick Kerry, PhD, a Tulane alumnus. “Parental status and motivations for parental care have been strongly associated with social conservatism in many different countries, from Lebanon to Japan.”
So what about the millions of parents out there who call themselves liberal? The researchers behind this study know there will be some doubters.
“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.”
An important factor to note about this research is that the research didn’t say parents were anything more tax conservative. “We find that parents are changing their economic preferences and are more pro-government spending,” said Dr. Diana Burlacu from Newcastle University in relation to her own research. Though she also noted that parental support for government services like daycare (so clearly not the US) only lasted for a while you used them.
The entire study can be read in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B