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Having children may make you more conservative, study finds

Lifestyle Desk |
Update: 2022-09-07 21:35:57
Having children may make you more conservative, study finds [Photo Collected]

Like grey hairs and unexpected aches, becoming more conservative is often thought to be a by-product of age. But now it appears it may be rooted in a different cause: having children.

Researchers have found that people who do not have children tend to be more socially liberal than parents, and that having children helps explain why people tend to become more rightwing with age.

“There is this idea that as you get older you become more conservative from experience and from being bitten by the real world,” said Dr Nick Kelly, co-author of the research from the University of Pennsylvania.

“But it doesn’t seem to be the case. If you look at people who are not parents, you just do not see an age difference.”

The study potentially offers a fresh take on the decline in birthrates seen in many countries. “I think it could contribute to liberalisation in those countries,” said Kelly, adding that countries that ban abortions might experience a push in the opposite direction.

Writing in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Kelly and colleagues report how in one experiment, 376 university students in the US were split into two groups.

One group was shown images of household objects and asked to talk about how they might use one, while the other group was shown images of children and asked to think about possible names and positive interactions. Both groups then completed a survey on views on issues such as abortion and traditional marriage.

The team found that participants who imagined time with a child gave more socially conservative responses than those who thought about household objects, although this held only for those highly engaged in the imagination exercise.

When the team surveyed 2,610 adults across 10 countries, from Lebanon to Japan, they found that people who were more motivated to care for children tended to be more socially conservative. In addition, parents were more socially conservative than those who were childfree.

And while social conservatism increased with age, this relationship disappeared once parenthood was taken into account.

The team’s findings were backed up by an analysis of data from the World Values Survey, collected over a 40-year period and involving 426,444 participants in 88 countries, which additionally suggested the more children parents had, the more socially conservative they tended to be.

However, in a few countries, including India and Pakistan, parenthood was not linked to more conservative attitudes – a finding Kelly said highlighted that having children is just one factor that may influence social values.

Prof Paul Higgs, of University College London, warned that the study reduces political orientation to one specific set of personal experiences, just as the trope of older age driving increasingly conservative values did. Nor does it take into account the changing nature of later life or consider how social conservatism may be affected by changes in society or in social roles.

He also noted that while the welfare state in the UK has supported people to have children, it has coincided with a more liberal and equal society rather than the reverse.

Dr Diana Burlacu, of Newcastle University, welcomed the study but added it was hard to say whether parenthood made people more conservative or conservative people were more likely to choose to become parents.

She also noted the study did not find that parents are more economically conservative. “We find that parents do change their economic preferences and are more in favour of government spending,” she said of her own research, although she noted their support of services like daycare only lasted while they were making use of them.

Kelly said that while there was a wealth of research on parenting and its effect on children, there was far less exploring the impact of parenthood itself.

“I think that research like this demonstrates that when your motivations, your goals, your priorities, change, that influences your broader values,,” he said.

“Understanding that point is important in realising that maybe people you disagree with a bit aren’t just stupid and evil … Those people might have been shaped by just their situation in life and what their motivations and goals are.”

Source: The Guardian 

BDST: 2135 HRS, SEP 07, 2022

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