New work by University of Pennsylvania researchers shows that people are likely to become more conservative when they start having children.
The finding counters what is often thought to be the reason people tend to get more conservative as they become older. Many people think this is simply because of experience and more wisdom that comes with age.
This study, which appeared in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provides evidence that parenthood makes people more likely to hold conservative views on a variety of social matters, including premarital sex, abortion, and immigration.
Exploring social conservatism
Social conservatism is a political ideology or philosophy that focuses on the upholding of traditional values and beliefs. It regards highly moral and social values, which advocates deem as debased by liberalism in modern times. In the United States, Republicans make a good example of groups that adhere to this ideology.
Socially conservative groups, for instance, tend to oppose abortion, premarital sex, and gay marriage. They also support anti-immigration actions and the death penalty for certain crimes, among others.
In this study, researchers came up with a theory that parenthood, or having to care for children, might cause people to hold socially conservative views. They then went on to carry out several experiments to confirm or disprove this theory.
One of the studies involved university student volunteers (376 in total). These were asked to view children’s pictures or consider imagined activities and then complete a survey that was designed to measure their level of conservatism.
Another experiment involved a survey of about 2,610 adults. Researchers asked these subjects if they had children and about their political beliefs.
Surveys aimed at learning about the tendency to care for children and degrees of conservatism were also sent to volunteers in other countries across the globe.
Link to parenthood
The experiments revealed an association between parenthood and a greater tendency toward social conservatism. People who had children or had some put under their care were more likely to be socially conservative.
The number of children also played a part. Researchers found that people who had more children exhibited a higher level of conservatism. Similarly, persons that were involved in childcare were also more conservative.
A link similar to that to social conservatism was not observed between parenthood and economic conservatism. Researchers found that many parents did not have any problem with the government spending more money.
Adherence to social conservatism did not seem to go on all through life, however. Some parents change their views about certain matters – for example, support for childcare subsidies – after their children became grown-ups and left the home.
Findings from this study challenge the widespread lay belief that social conservatism is an off-shoot of experience and greater wisdom. Parenthood is a bigger driver of adherence to the ideology than just age, the researchers said.