Quick Takes on Parenting

Pew Research Center has some new survey data concerning parenting, with some interesting charts.  Some of the points that will probably get more play are little more than tautologies.  Wealthier parents like their neighborhoods better and think they are safer.  Well, duh.  That’s a major motivation for working hard enough to trade up to better neighborhoods.

(Side note on the RhodeMap RI angle: Pushing “affordable housing” into those better neighborhoods is either going to be ineffectual or damaging to both sides of the equation.  To the extent that it’s a minor intrusion, the laws of economics will assert themselves and increase the value of an affordable-type home to match the neighborhood, making it a privilege like a rent-controlled apartment in New York.  To the extent that it’s not a minor intrusion, those who lived in the neighborhood before will be resentful, and those pushed into them will react accordingly.)

On the right, most folks will zero in on the chart showing an unabated decline in the percentage of children living with two married parents, from 87% in 1960 to 62% in 2014, with the bulk of that loss transferring to single-parent households, from 9% to 26%.  That’s a sleeping disaster in America’s current demographics.

On a lighter note, though, it’s humorous to observe that Millennials are especially inclined to think they’re “doing a very good job as a parent.  43% of Millennial fathers say that, versus 37% of Gen X fathers and 42% of Boomer fathers.  But Millennial mothers are really confident in their powers, with 57% saying they’re doing very well, versus 48% from Gen X and 41% of Boomers.  From one angle, this is another bit of evidence that Millennials have been puffed up a bit too much, but from another angle, I wonder if the cultural war on men over the past half century is reflected in the growing gap between the sexes when it comes to grading themselves.

As a policy guy, though, the most interesting results may be those associated with the question of how much involvement parents should have in their children’s educations.  Asked whether “too much could be a bad thing” or “parents could never be too involved,” 65% of parents with post graduate degrees tend toward the “too much could be a bad thing side,” which corresponds with the 59% with incomes over $75,000 per year.  At the other end of the spectrum are those with only high school degrees or less, 68% of whom say “parents could never be too involved, corresponding with 74% whose incomes are under $30,000.

Some of this could have to do with the ages of the parents, but parents at different levels might be thinking of the question differently.  It’s generally taken as a given that wealthier, better-educated parents are more involved with their children’s education, which could cause their concern about crossing the line into “too much.”  On the other hand, lower-income parents’ anxiety may be more often that they and their peers aren’t involved enough, so they aren’t really thinking about the possibility of overdoing it.

They’re also grappling with different problems and hoping for different things from their children’s education, most especially along the lines of getting to those better neighborhoods over generations.

Some support for that suggestion might be found in the fact that black parents much less likely to say they would never spank their children (31%) and much more likely to say that they do so often or sometimes (32%).  For whites the percentages are 55% never and 14% often/sometimes.  Answers are not as dramatic, looking at level of education, but the trend is clear for the decrease in spanking as parents are better educated.

One could suggest that they know better, or that they’ve learned different techniques.  But their concerns and objectives are also different.  White parents are very concerned with the possibility that their children will “struggle with anxiety or depression” (58%), while blacks are concerned that their children might “get shot” (39%).

Progressives looking at such data and, especially, outcomes for people of different races and income levels always want government to step in and do something, but the answers remain as they’ve long been.  Parents should stay together and work to move their families into better, safer neighborhoods, where anxiety and paying too much attention to their children can be their biggest concerns. Policies that encourage such behavior (or, more accurately, avoid discouraging it) will produce more of it.

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