Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Families may differ, but they share common values on parenting

Parents see responsibility, hard work as most important trait to teach children

A new report released today by the Pew Research Center shows how the values Americans bring to parenting are strongly linked to their own ideological leanings. But aside from ideology, the survey finds widespread agreement among parents over the traits that children should be taught.

Moreover, there are only modest differences in these attitudes among parents with one child or several, and among those with children of different ages. For the most part, married mothers and single mothers also share common ground on the values important to teach children.

These findings are based on a Pew Research Center survey conducted April 29-May 27 among 3,243 adults, including 815 parents, who are part of Pew Research’s new American Trends Panel, a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults surveyed online and by mail.

Survey respondents were asked how important it is to teach a variety of qualities to children, and then they were asked which three of the 12 qualities were the most important.

Fully 94% of parents say it is important to teach children responsibility, while nearly as many (92%) say the same about hard work. Helpfulness, good manners and independence also are widely viewed as important for children to learn, according to the survey.

Parents of tots, teens and tweens generally agree on child values

When parents were asked which traits they considered to be “most important” to teach children, the same ones topped the list, with one exception — while only 56% of parents say passing on religious faith is important, fully 31% say this is one of the most important things to teach children. That makes teaching religious faith the third most important trait, behind responsibility and hard work.

Toddlers and Teens

The qualities and characteristics that parents value are remarkably consistent regardless of the ages of their children. Whether they have preschool-aged children, elementary-aged children or teenagers in the home, parents agree that the most important traits to teach children are responsibility and hard work.

There are few differences across other child-rearing values as well. Parents of teens are more likely than parents with younger children to stress independence and good manners, while parents of young children are somewhat more likely to view the teaching of creativity as important. But large majorities among parents with younger and older children prioritize each of these traits.

Parenting Values and Family Size

More parents with at least three children prioritize faith, obedience

In large part, parenting values also are similar across families big and small. However, religious faith and obedience are viewed as more important by parents of three or more children compared with parents of smaller families.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of parents of three or more children say the teaching of religious faith is important (and 40% rate it among the most important qualities to teach children). Smaller shares of parents with two children (55%) and one child (52%) view instilling faith as important; about a third of those with two children (34%) and just 22% of those with one child view it among the most important qualities to teach children.

And while 69% of parents with three children say it is important to teach obedience, fewer parents with smaller families agree (60% of those with two children, 58% with one child).

Married Moms and Single Moms

How married and single mothers view child-rearing values

Single-parent households are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. The new survey suggests that single mothers and married mothers hold some parenting values in common, but differ on several others.

Married mothers are more likely than single mothers to say it is important to teach children empathy (81% of married mothers vs. 60% of single mothers); there are smaller differences in views of the importance of teaching persistence (68% of married mothers vs. 55% of single mothers), religious faith (61% vs. 50%) and creativity (73% vs. 63%).

In most cases, however, married and single mothers view child-rearing values similarly. For instance, overwhelming percentages of both groups (96% each) say it is important for children to be taught responsibility, and about half (50% of married mothers, 55% of single mothers) view it as one of the most important values for children to be taught.