Scientists link having children with being more conservative

Having children makes you more CONSERVATIVE: Parenthood fosters more right-wing attitudes to abortion, sex and national security, study finds

  • Scientists have found a link between having children with being more right wing
  • Parents tend to have conservative values relating to abortion, immigration, sex
  • They also challenge the suggestion that becoming right wing happens with age 

What drives our political affiliation has long been a topic of scientific interest.

Now, a new study suggests that having children – and not growing older – can make you more right-wing.

Experts have found a link between having children and holding conservative values relating to social issues such as abortion, immigration, sex and national security. 

Being more invested in parental care ‘might make socially conservative policies more appealing’, the researchers say. 

Attitudes to subjects like abortion, welfare and national security became more conservative with the number of children, the study found. Pictured, pro-life marchers and pro-choice protesters at the US Supreme Court in Washington DC, 2018


– Patriotism

– Religion  

– Bans on abortion 

– Traditional marriage 

– Military and national security 

The study was led by Nicholas Kerry, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 

‘Differences in attitudes on social issues such as abortion, immigration and sex are hugely divisive, and understanding their origins is among the most important tasks facing human behavioural sciences,’ they say in their paper.

‘Despite the clear psychological importance of parenthood and the motivation to provide care for children, researchers have only recently begun investigating their influence on social and political attitudes.

‘[We found] evidence that both parenthood and parental care motivation are associated with increased social conservatism around the globe.’ 

For the study, the researchers conducted several experiments to explore the link between having children and political values. 

In one experiment, they surveyed 2,610 adults across 10 countries, including the US, Australia, South Korea, Chile, Lebanon and Japan. 

All respondents completed measures of how motivated they were to give parental care, and their levels of conservatism. 

Conservatism was determined by their attitudes on topics including gay marriage, sex before marriage, abortion rights, welfare benefits and ‘military and national security’. 

Parental care motivation was determined by how much they agreed with statements such as ‘when I see infants, I want to hold them’.  

Overall, researchers found that people with children, and those motivated to care for children, were more socially conservative than those who didn’t have any children. 

Another experiment involved researchers showing photos of ‘young, cute children’ to US university students, almost all of whom didn’t have children. 

Most research on parental status and psychosocial characteristics has not effectively distinguished child-free individuals from other non-parents, the team say (stock image) 

The participants were asked to identify which of the children ‘most resembled how they imagined a future child of theirs to look’.

They were also required to give this particular child an imagined name and describe a series of hypothetical positive experiences with them, before being assessed for their conservative values. 

Likewise, researchers found that those who were more motivated to care for the child tended to have those more socially conservative values. 

The researchers stress that the link between parenthood and conservatism seems to only be with social conservative values (such as patriotism and abortion) and not economic conservatism (such as welfare benefits and fiscal responsibility). 

Patriotism, the feeling of devotion to and support of one’s own country, is generally said to be a more right wing value (file photo)

Overall, the new study challenges the idea that social conservatism is caused by getting older. 

‘There is this idea that as you get older you become more conservative from experience and from being bitten by the real world,’ Dr Kelly told the Guardian.

‘But it doesn’t seem to be the case. If you look at people who are not parents, you just do not see an age difference.’

One of the limitations of the study is that it was correlational, so the team ‘cannot confidently conclude that parenthood itself causes social conservatism’. 

It’s possible that parenthood makes people more conservative, but also that conservative people are more likely to choose to become parents. 

The researchers conclude that ‘the motivation to care for children is consequently among the fundamental drivers of human behaviour, but its power to shape social attitudes and cognition is underappreciated’. 


Parenthood is considered by some to be one of life’s greatest joys, but according to a recent study, adults who don’t have kids are just as happy as those who do.

Psychologists at Michigan State University (MSU) asked nearly 1,000 adults about whether or not they have children and their levels of life satisfaction. 

They found no differences in life satisfaction, as well as limited differences in personality traits, between parents and child-free individuals.

As well as this, more than a quarter of the survey respondents said they’d chosen not to had children – much more than the study authors had expected. 

The team said their research is unique, because it separated ‘non-parents’ (people who aren’t parents) into three categories – ‘child-free’, ‘childless’ and ‘not-yet-parents’.

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