Do Parenting Styles Influence Kids’ Political Leanings as Adults?

By Julie Rasicot — November 01, 2012 2 min read

I’m fairly certain that both of my daughters, now 12 and 15, will grow up to be liberal Democrats, especially after a steady diet of left-leaning politics provided by their passionately Democratic father since they were toddlers.

While I share the same political leanings, I try to be the voice of moderation in our house, often noting that the other guys are entitled to their opinions and may have some good ideas as well. It’s not been easy during this fall’s contentious presidential election, but it’s been gratifying to hear the girls challenge their dad on a political issue now and then.

Turns out, though, that how we’ve parented our kids and their temperaments may have something more to do with the development of their political mindsets than all that dinner-table talk. Previous research has suggested that growing up with authoritarian parents made children more likely to endorse conservative attitudes as adults, while kids with fearful temperaments were more likely to be more conservative in their thinking as adults.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign decided to delve deeper into those theories by examining data gathered from 708 kids and their parents who had participated in the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Their findings were published online in Psychological Science published by the Association for Psychological Science. (Sorry, a link to the study couldn’t be found.)

According to a news release on the study, researchers examined data collected when the kids were 1 month old and their parents were quizzed on whether they demonstrated authoritarian or egalitarian parenting attitudes. Other data included mothers’ assessments of their children’s temperaments when they were 4 and a half years old.

After analyzing the data, researchers concluded that the earlier political psychology theory was on target: Kids with authoritarian parents were more likely to have conservative attitudes at age 18, no matter their gender, ethnic background, cognitive functioning, or socioeconomic status. Children whose parents had egalitarian parenting attitudes were “more likely” to to be liberals as young adults, the news release said.

Here’s an interesting note: Children who were more fearful at age 4 and a half were more likely to be conservative at age 18, while kids with “higher levels of activity or restlessness and higher levels of attentional focusing were more likely to espouse liberal values at that age.”

“Our research suggests that variation in how people feel about diverse topics, ranging from abortion, military spending, and the death penalty, can be traced to both temperamental differences that are observable as early as 54 months of age, as well as variation in the attitudes people’s parents have about child rearing and discipline,” study author and psychological scientist R. Chris Fraley said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.

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