A study has found that people with children tend to become more socially conservative than those without children.
It is generally thought that people become more right-wing as they get older, but researchers found that this may not be the case.
The study aimed to understand how divisive attitudes emerge on issues such as abortion, immigration and sex.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania initially theorized that people who are “more invested in parenting” may be more inclined towards conservative policies and values.
As part of the study, the researchers surveyed 2,610 people from 10 countries and found evidence that people who were already parents or wanted to become parents were “associated with increased social conservatism around the world.”
However, people who did not have children consistently held more liberal views as they aged.
Professor Nicholas Kerry, co-author of the study, told Newsweek that the findings contradict the general belief that people tend to become more conservative with age:
This view is captured by the statement that ‘a non-liberal at 20 has no heart and a non-conservative at 30 has no brain’.
In fact, when you statistically control for the effects of parenthood, older people are no more socially conservative than younger people.
The study, published in the academic journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, also noted that the steady decline in global fertility rates since 1950 could lead to a more liberal future.
“Given that birth rates have been falling in most of the world but rising rapidly in some regions, the current findings may have important implications for the future political landscape,” the authors wrote.
In particular, our findings suggest that global increases in childlessness could potentially contribute to a process of liberalization in social issues.
But Professor Paul Higgins of the University College London Academy warned that the study’s shortcoming was that it reduced political leanings to a very specific set of personal experiences.
Speaking to The Guardian, Higgins said the study did not take into account changes later in life or consider the effects of changes in society and social roles.
Prof. Kerry added that despite the findings, it should be understood that political attitudes are “at least partly” the result of a person at a particular stage of life.
Understanding this, Prof. Kerry said, could help people to “understand that their own views may sometimes change” because they have different priorities, “and not just because we have a particular view of objective reality”.