Parenting style heavily influenced by economic status, study finds

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A parent’s economic status plays an instrumental role in how they rear their children, a new study finds.

Researchers at Yale and Northwestern University analyzed varied approaches to raising children across eras and nations, coming across three distinct parenting styles: permissive, authoritative, and authoritarian.

Couple walking with child on hiking trail
A new study finds that parenting styles, particularly in terms of how controlling a parent is, are driven by a family’s socioeconomic status. (Photo by Alberto Casetta on Unsplash)

Permissive parents tend to let their children explore and learn from their mistakes; authoritative parents try to mold their kids into the ideal adolescents they envision; and authoritarian parents try to use their will to exercise control over their child’s fate, they explained.

“We postulate that socioeconomic conditions drive how much control or monitoring parents exercise on their children’s choices,” says co-author Fabrizio Zilibotti, a Yale economist, in a university news release.

“For instance, greater occupational mobility and lower inequality today makes an authoritarian approach less effective than generations ago,” he adds. “It’s not that parents spare the rod because they are more concerned about their children’s wellbeing now than they were 100 years ago. Rather, parenting strategies adapted to the modern economy.”

Today’s predominant parenting style could be compared against that of the 60s and 70s when American parents exercised permissiveness, due to the era’s low levels of economic inequality.

Worldwide, countries with higher levels of inequality tend to have less permissive parents, while those with stronger social and economic safety nets tend to produce parents with more permissive styles, the researchers found.

As economic inequality has risen in the U.S., so has helicopter parenting, the researchers note, which they attribute to a stronger need for parents to protect their children from societal dangers.

Permissive parenting, meanwhile, remains popular in much of Europe, but particularly in its Scandinavia region.

The researchers conclude that all parents want their children to succeed, but they all take different approaches in achieving that aim — some shaped by factors outside of their control.

The full study was published last month in the journal Econometrica.


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