The Gender Gap and the Politics of Parenthood Throughout the Lifecycle

40 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 2 Aug 2012

Date Written: 2012


In our recent book, The Politics of Parenthood (2012) as well as other published research, we document that parenthood shapes the political attitudes of men and women on a range of important policy issues. This paper builds on that research by exploring the impact of parenthood on four social welfare policy attitudes, giving more attention to variations in the parenthood experience. Specifically, we employ General Social Survey data from across the first decade of the 21st century to assess how the impact of parenthood varies depending on the age of children — e.g. very young children versus school age children — as well as the degree to which parenthood effects persist throughout the life cycle. We also explore whether parenthood effects are heightened with additional children. We find that parenthood predicts more liberal attitudes for both men and women on the issues most directly related to raising children — education, day-care, and health care — and works as a cross-pressure to the influence of marriage. We also find that, for the most part, it is simply becoming a parent that matters in terms of shaping political views, not the number of children. Finally, we find evidence that on some issues having and raising a child remains an influence on the political views of adults even when their children have turned 18 and/or left the home. Our findings support the idea that parenthood shapes attitudes both out of self-interest and as agent of political socialization throughout the life cycle. Our research contributes to a richer understanding of parenthood as an important, but understudied, influence on public opinion, as well as the role being a parent plays in shaping the contours of the contemporary gender gap.

Keywords: parenthood, motherhood, fatherhood, public opinion, family politics

Suggested Citation

Elder, Laurel and Greene, Steven, The Gender Gap and the Politics of Parenthood Throughout the Lifecycle (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Laurel Elder (Contact Author)

Hartwick College ( email )

1 Hartwick College Drive
United States
6074314887 (Phone)


Steven Greene

Professor ( email )

Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC 27695
United States

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