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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Disalvo, Daniel / Stonecash, Jeffrey

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Volume 14, Issue 2


Red Parents, Blue Parents: The Politics of Modern Parenthood

Laurel Elder / Steven Greene
Published Online: 2016-07-11 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2016-0013


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.


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About the article

Laurel Elder

Laurel Elder is a Professor of Political Science at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.

Steven Greene

Steven Greene is a Professor of Political Science at North Carolina State University.

aThey are co-authors of The Politics of Parenthood: Causes and Consequences of the Politicization and Polarization of the American Family (SUNY Press, 2012) which explores how and why parenthood and the family have become politicized in contemporary US politics. They are also co-authors of numerous scholarly articles focused on the political consequences of raising children published in outlets such as American Politics Review, Politics & Gender, and Social Science Quarterly.

Published Online: 2016-07-11

Published in Print: 2016-07-01

Citation Information: The Forum, Volume 14, Issue 2, Pages 143–167, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2016-0013.

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