Becoming more conservative is often associated with getting older – but scientists have found that becoming a parent, not getting older, is more likely to push people further to the right.
In a peer-reviewed paper published Wednesday, researchers from several countries — including the United States, Denmark and Japan — said they found cross-cultural evidence that “parenting is associated with social conservatism around the world.”
“Motivation to care for children is among the primary drivers of human behavior, but its power to shape social attitudes and cognition is underappreciated,” they said.
In a series of studies, the research team found that political beliefs appear to be influenced by parenting.
The first study included 376 participants, all of whom were students at American universities. Almost all students were not parents.
Participants were divided into two groups and shown pictures of either “young, cute children” or leisure activities before being asked to come up with imaginary activities, baby names and other hypothetical scenarios related to the visual cues.
They then filled out a survey about their opinions related to topics such as marriage and abortion.
The researchers said those who were “emotionally engaged” with the imagined parenting scenarios demonstrated increased levels of social conservatism.
Meanwhile, separate surveys of 2,610 adults in 10 countries analyzed respondents’ motivations for caring for children, as well as their attitudes to economic and social issues.
The studies found that parental motivation had little effect on economic conservatism, but that there was a “highly significant” relationship between parental instincts and conservative beliefs — regardless of whether people had children of their own.
The association between conservative values and parenting motivation did not fluctuate across age groups, suggesting that maternal and paternal behavior, not aging, drives changes in social attitudes.
US among countries with strongest links between parental care and conservatism
The researchers also indicated that the relationship was consistent across countries, with the strongest links between parental care motivation and social conservatism found in the United States, Lebanon, South Korea, El Salvador and Poland.
They noted that these were countries in different global regions with different histories.
“These results suggest that the relationship between parental care motivation and social conservatism is not unique to Western or Christian countries,” they said.
People who have children also seem to value traditionalism when it comes to social issues, the research team found, with the association between having children and conservatism again being high across all age groups.
In the US, researchers also found a “highly significant” link between parenting and economic conservatism.
Another study conducted by the team examined 40 years of studies that covered data from more than 426,000 people in 88 countries.
Responses to questions on topics such as divorce, abortion, and premarital sex were used to measure conservatism.
Again, researchers found a link between parenting and conservative values.
“[The study] found evidence that parents, and especially parents of many children, hold more traditional and more socially conservative views in dozens of countries around the world,” the researchers said.
“Parenthood, not age (or the wisdom that comes with it), appears to drive the hypothesized age-conservatism link.”
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