Over the past several decades the major parties in the US have not only politicized parenthood, but have come to offer increasingly polarized views of the ideal American family. This study builds on recent scholarship exploring the political impact of parenthood (e.g. Elder, Laurel, and Steven Greene. 2012a. The Politics of Parenthood: Causes and Consequences of the Politicization and Polarization of the American Family. Albany, NY: SUNY Press; Greenlee, Jill. 2014. The Political Consequences of Motherhood. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.) by comparing Republican and Democratic parents in terms of family structure as well as attitudes about parental roles and child rearing. This study draws on a fairly unique data set, the Pew Research Center’s Gender and Generations Survey, as well as more traditional data sets, to further our understanding of the politics of modern parenthood in the United States. We find that the starkly contrasted red families versus blue families painted in some research and news commentary does not hold up when examined with individual level data. On average, Republican and Democratic parents start their families at the same age and have the same number of kids. And despite the parties’ polarized messages about the ideal family structure, Republican moms are just as likely to be working as Democratic moms. Where partisanship does divide red and blue families is on attitudes about working mothers and perhaps most interestingly, when it comes to the way men conceptualize their roles and performance as fathers. Democratic dads possess more egalitarian attitudes about parenting and less authoritarian attitudes about child-rearing, and, perhaps because they expect more from themselves as care-givers, they struggle more with work-family balance and are less satisfied with themselves as parents. In contrast, Republican fathers embrace more traditional views about parenting and parental authority and rate themselves more highly as parents. This study concludes by exploring the implications of the politics of modern parenthood for the 2016 presidential election and beyond.
Appendix: Variables and Measures
Parent (qp1): 1 Indicates has children under 18; 0 otherwise
Ideal Home Situation for Children (ideal): Ideal working situation for R; 1 Full time, 2 part-time, 3 not at all.
Parent Quality (q25): Rate job one is doing as a parent from 1, poor, up to 5, excellent.
Child Responsibility (q42): 1 Spouse/other does most child-rearing; 2 shared child-rearing; 3 mostly performed by R.
Household Responsibility (q43): 1 Spouse/other mostly responsible for household; 2 shared responsibility; 3 mostly performed by R.
Prefer to Work (q44): 1 Prefer to work even though it takes R away from children; 0 prefer being home with children but needs the money from work.
Parent Time (q26a): 1 Too little, 2 right amount, 3 too much time with kids.
Right Time (q26a): R spends “right amount” of time with children.
Parent Compare (q26b): More, less, or same time with children as your parents did.
Children Best (q37): Best for children when mom is working full time, 1, part-time 2, not at all 3.
Mom Best (q38a): Best for mother when mom is working full time, 1, part-time 2, not at all 3.
Dad Best (q38a): Best for father when dad is working full time, 1, part-time 2, not at all 3.
Family Balance (q41): How difficult to balance work/family from 1 very difficult to 4 not at all difficult.
Married (qm1): 1 Indicates married; 0 otherwise.
Non-White (race3ma): 1 Indicates racial minority; 0 for non-Hispanic White.
Age (age): age in years.
Born Again (born): 1 Indicates respondent describes self as “born again”; 0 otherwise.
Education (Educ2): Highest level of education from 1, less than HS to 8, post-graduate degree.
Household Income (income): Household income in 9 categories from 1, lowest, to 9, highest.
Democrat (party/partyln): 1 Indicates Democrat or Independent leaning Democrat; 0 otherwise.
Independent (party/partyln): 1 Indicates pure Independent; 0 otherwise.
Employed (qe3): 1 Indicates currently working full or part time; 0 otherwise.
General Social Survey
Parent (childs, babies, preteen, teen): 1 Indicates has children under 18 living in home; 0 otherwise.
Married (marital): 1 Indicates married; 0 otherwise.
Employed (wrkstat): 1 Indicates currently working full or part time; 0 otherwise.
Number of Children (childs): Number of children R has had.
Age when First Child Born (agekdbrn): Age in years.
Kids are Life’s Greatest Joy (kidjoy): 5-Point scale from 1, strongly disagree, to 5, strongly agree.
National Election Studies
Authoritarian Parenting Index (auth_ind, auth_cur, auth_obed, auth_consid) whether respondent prefers among children that children are independent versus respect for elders, curiosity versus good manners, self-reliance versus obedience, and being well behaved versus being considerate. Mean of responses where variables are recoded 1 for respect, good manners, obedience, and well-behaved, and 0 otherwise.
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