Just In: the American Family Landscape, Scrutinized

Pew Research Center's just-published survey results give us a look inside the brains of parents across the nation

Every person who reads the overview of the latest Pew Research Center survey of 1,806 U.S. parents will chuckle at the different results within it. Take me, for example.

As a mother of a daughter with significant learning differences, this struck me as amusing: “And while parents generally don’t think children should feel badly about getting poor grades as long as they try hard, about half (52 percent) say they would be very disappointed if their children were average students.”

Of course this isn’t really funny, but my demographics mean I look at this statistic in a very specific way. Reading findings from Parenting in America — Pew's results from a survey of parents with children under age 18 conducted Sept. 15–Oct. 13 — is eye-popping interesting. It’s an up-close view of how economic circumstances, family structures and race contribute to how people think and parent.

Some of the news is stark

  • A third of parents with annual family incomes less than $30,000 say their neighborhood is a “fair” or “poor” place to raise kids; 7 percent of parents with incomes of more than $75,000 give their neighborhood a low rating.
  • At least half of parents with family incomes of less than $30,000 worry their child or children might be kidnapped (59 percent), beat up or attacked (55 percent).

  • About half (47 percent) of these lower-income parents worry their children might be shot at some time.

  • Half of lower-income parents worry their child or one of their children will get pregnant or get a girl pregnant as a teenager, compared with 43 percent of higher-income parents.

  • More lower-income than higher-income parents (40 percent vs. 21 percent) worry their children will get in trouble with the law at some time.

  • Among high-income parents, 84 percent say their children have participated in sports in the 12 months prior to the survey, compared to 59 percent of lower-income parents.

  • The study results also highlight racial gaps. White parents worry more than black parents that their children might struggle with anxiety or depression (58 percent vs. 35 percent) or that their kids might have problems with drugs or alcohol (40 percent vs. 23 percent). Black parents worry more than white parents that their children might get shot: about four in ten (39 percent) black parents voice concern compared to about one in five (22 percent) white parents. And Hispanic parents show more concern on these topics than white or black parents.

Now let’s turn to easier-to-read findings.

It’s fun observe ponder how people who are younger than me feel about parenting. For example, 57 percent of "Millennial" moms (ages 18 to 34) “say they are doing a very good job as a parent, a higher share than Millennial dads (43 percent) and any other generational groups.” Aside: I think those kids — who are now moms! Unbelievable as I’m still so young — were fed more self-confidence than my generation. (Just kidding, Mom! You raised me right!)

There’s much to glean from this study and I’ve only hit a few highlights here. It’s a worthy read for any parent. I’ll leave you with one more conclusion drawn from the data. “Parents of younger children feel more personally responsible for their children’s achievements or lack thereof, while parents of teenagers are much more likely to say that it’s their children who are mainly responsible for their own successes and failures.”

And that, dear reader, is why I’m glad I’m a parent of a teenager. I sleep a lot better now that when my kids were young.

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