Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 28, 2019

Generational Change? The Effects of Family, Age, and Time on Moral Foundations

Amanda Friesen

Amanda Friesen is Associate Professor of Political Science and Project Director for the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI.

EMAIL logo
From the journal The Forum


One way to uncover the persistent role of religion across generations is to look past traditional understandings of religious belief and denominational belonging and examine the presence of bedrock principles that could influence political beliefs in families. The Moral Foundations framework was developed for this purpose – to describe human behavior and attitudes in the moral realm without relying upon country, culture, or time specific labels. In an original and rare three-generation dataset, college students, their parents, and their grandparents were asked about political attitudes and preferences for the Moral Foundations of Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. The Foundations are not equally shared across generations as preferences for each Foundation increase with the age of the cohorts in this sample, with especially large differences on Authority and Purity. A follow-up survey reveals that Moral Foundations may not be stable across even short periods of time. These findings suggest that the political appeals that may work on older Americans may be less effective on the younger generations. If individuals indeed make moral decisions based on these types of bedrock principles, understanding which of these principles or Foundations drive particular age groups can help us better understand shifts in public opinion.

About the author

Amanda Friesen

Amanda Friesen is Associate Professor of Political Science and Project Director for the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI.


Funding provided by National Science Foundation Dissertation Research Improvement Grant SES-1122471. The author would like to thank Kevin Smith, John Hibbing, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Michael Wagner, Philip Schwadel, Scott Clifford, and Nicholas Davis for their guidance and feedback at various stages of this project. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.


Balzer, Amanda, and Carly M. Jacobs. 2011. “Gender and Physiological Effects in Connecting Disgust to Political Preferences.” Social Science Quarterly 92 (5): 1297–1313.10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00819.xSearch in Google Scholar

Beck, Paul Allen, and M. Kent Jennings. 1975. “Parents as ‘Middlepersons’ in Political Socialization.” The Journal of Politics 37: 83–107.10.2307/2128892Search in Google Scholar

Beck, Paul Allen, and M. Kent Jennings. 1991. “Family Traditions, Political Periods, and the Development of Partisan Orientations.” The Journal of Politics 53 (3): 742–763.10.2307/2131578Search in Google Scholar

Carmines, Edward G., and James A. Stimson. 1989. Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.10.1515/9780691218250Search in Google Scholar

Carmines, Edward G., and Geoffrey C. Layman. 1997. “Value Priorities, Partisanship and Electoral Choice: The Neglected Case of the United States.” Political Behavior 19 (4): 283–316.10.1023/A:1024899805067Search in Google Scholar

Djupe, Paul A., and Amanda Friesen. 2018. “Moralizing to the Choir: The Moral Foundations of American Clergy.” Social Science Quarterly 99 (2): 665–682.10.1111/ssqu.12455Search in Google Scholar

Friesen, Amanda, and Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz. 2015. “Do Political Attitudes and Religiosity Share a Genetic Path?” Political Behavior 37 (4): 791–818.10.1007/s11109-014-9291-3Search in Google Scholar

Graham, Jesse, and Jonathan Haidt. 2010. “Beyond Beliefs: Religions Bind Individuals into Moral Communities.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 14: 140–150.10.1177/1088868309353415Search in Google Scholar

Graham, Jesse, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian A. Nosek. 2009. “Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96 (5): 1029–1046.10.1037/a0015141Search in Google Scholar

Graham, Jesse, Brian Nosek, Jonathan Haidt, Ravi Iyer, Sena Koleva, and Peter H. Ditto. 2011. “Mapping the Moral Domain.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101: 366–385.10.1037/a0021847Search in Google Scholar

Graham, Jesse, Jonathan Haidt, Sena Koleva, Matt Motyl, Ravi Iyer, Sean P. Wojcik, and Peter H. Ditto. 2013. “Moral Foundations Theory: The Pragmatic Validity of Moral Pluralism.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 47: 55–130.10.1016/B978-0-12-407236-7.00002-4Search in Google Scholar

Haidt, Jonathan. 2012. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Pantheon Books.Search in Google Scholar

Haidt, Jonathan, and Jesse Graham. 2007. “When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals may not Recognize.” Social Justice Research 20 (1): 98–116.10.1007/s11211-007-0034-zSearch in Google Scholar

Hunter, James Davison. 1991. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York, NY: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Inbar, Yoel, David A. Pizarro, Joshua Knobe, and Paul Bloom. 2009. “Disgust Sensitivity Predicts Intuitive Disapproval of Gays.” Emotion 9 (3): 435–439.10.1037/a0015960Search in Google Scholar

Jardina, Ashley. 2019. White Identity Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/9781108645157Search in Google Scholar

Jennings, M. Kent, and Richard G. Niemi. 1974. The Political Character of Adolescence: The Influence of Families and Schools. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Jennings, M. Kent, Laura Stoker, and Jake Bowers. 2009. “Politics Across Generations: Family Transmission Reexamined.” The Journal of Politics 71 (3): 782–799.10.1017/S0022381609090719Search in Google Scholar

Jones, Robert P. 2016. The end of white Christian America. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.Search in Google Scholar

Koleva, Spassena, Jesse Graham, Ravi Iyer, Peter H. Ditto, and Jonathan Haidt. 2012. “Tracing the Threads: How Five Moral Concerns (Especially Purity) Help Explain Culture War Attitudes.” Journal of Research in Personality 46 (2): 184–194.10.1016/j.jrp.2012.01.006Search in Google Scholar

Layman, Geoffrey C. 2001. The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.Search in Google Scholar

McAdams, Dan P., Michelle Albaugh, Emily Farber, Jennifer Daniels, Regina L. Logan, and Brad Olson. 2008. “Family Metaphors and Moral Intuitions: How Conservatives and Liberals Narrate Their Lives.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95 (4): 978–990.10.1037/a0012650Search in Google Scholar

Niemi, Richard G., and M. Kent Jennings. 1991. “Issues and Inheritance in the Formation of Party Identification.” American Journal of Political Science 35 (4): 970–988.10.2307/2111502Search in Google Scholar

Pearson-Merkowitz, Shanna, and James G. Gimpel. 2009. “Religion and Political Socialization.” In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics, edited by James L. Guth, Lyman A. Kellstedt, and Corwin E. Smidt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195326529.003.0006Search in Google Scholar

Singer, Eleanor, John Van Hoewyk, Nancy Gebler, Trivellore Raghunathan, and Katherine McGonagle. 1999. “The Effect of Incentives on Response Rates in Interviewer Mediated Surveys.” Journal of Official Statistics 15 (2): 217–230.Search in Google Scholar

Smith, Kevin B., Douglas Oxley, Matthew V. Hibbing, John R. Alford and John R. Hibbing. 2010. “Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations.” PLoS One 6 (10): e25552.10.1371/journal.pone.0025552Search in Google Scholar

Smith, Kevin B., John R. Alford, John R. Hibbing, Nicholas G. Martin, and Peter K. Hatemi. 2017. “Intuitive Ethics and Political Orientations: Testing Moral Foundations as a Theory of Political Ideology.” American Journal of Political Science 61 (2): 424–437.10.1111/ajps.12255Search in Google Scholar

Tedin, Kent L. 1974. “The Influence of Parents on the Political Attitudes of Adolescents.” The American Political Science Review 68 (4): 1579–1592.10.2307/1959943Search in Google Scholar

Thomas, L. Eugene. 1971. “Political Attitude Congruence between Politically Active Parents and College-Age Children: An Inquiry into Family Political Socialization.” Journal of Marriage and Family 33 (2): 375–386.10.2307/349425Search in Google Scholar

Warriner, Keith, John Goyder, Heidi Gjertsen, Paula Hohner, and Kathleen McSpurren. 1996. “Charities, No; Lotteries, No; Cash, Yes: Main Effects and Interactions in a Canadian Incentives Experiment.” Public Opinion Quarterly 60 (4): 542–562.10.1086/297772Search in Google Scholar

Whitehead, Andrew L., Samuel L. Perry, and Joseph O. Baker. 2018. “Make America Christian again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Sociology of Religion 79 (2): 147–171.10.1093/socrel/srx070Search in Google Scholar

Winegard, B., and R.O. Deaner. 2010. “The Evolutionary Significance of Red Sox Nation: Sport Fandom as a Byproduct of Coalitional Psychology.” Evolutionary Psychology 8 (3): 432–446.10.1177/147470491000800310Search in Google Scholar

Wright, Jennifer Cole, and Galen Baril. 2011. “The Role of Cognitive Resources in Determining Our Moral Intuitions: Are We All Liberals at Heart?” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 47: 1007–1012.10.1016/j.jesp.2011.03.014Search in Google Scholar

Wuthnow, Robert. 1988. The Restructuring of American religions: Society and Faith Since World War II. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.10.1515/9780691224213Search in Google Scholar

Zuckerman, Alan S., Josip Dasović, and Jennifer Fitzgerald. 2007. Partisan Families: The Social Logic of Bounded Partisanship in Germany and Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139167390Search in Google Scholar

Supplementary Material

The online version of this article offers supplementary material (

Published Online: 2019-06-28

©2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 6.12.2022 from
Scroll Up Arrow