To strive for personal autonomy is the primary goal in Western societies. Nevertheless, programs that support parenting are gaining attention nowadays. How would you answer the following questions?

Parents’ duty is to do the best for their children, even at the expense of their own well-being. Parents have a life and should not be asked to sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of their children.

A study looked at the answers given in France, Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden between 1981 and 2008 using data from the European Values Study.

The authors analysed the change to the answers over time.

Generally, there is an increasing agreement that the parents’ duty is to do the best for their children and their well-being. While about 80 percent in France, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden agree with this statement, in Germany   60 percent of those questioned agreed. This difference between the countries reduces over the last decades, becoming less and less significant.

If parents strongly share autonomy oriented values, then they are less inclined to sacrifice their own well-being in favor of the children. But this correlation also became weaker between 1981 and 2008.

Women in the 1980ies were more likely than men to believe that parents should sacrifice their own interests for the children.; these gender differences became insignificant in the 2000.

Compared to the younger generation, baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are less likely to sacrifice their own autonomy for that of their children.

Interestingly, education, income and social status cannot explain different opinions to these questions. It also makes no difference if people are married or not.

Nowadays, the primacy of children is a common shared value.

What does this mean for policy?

The authors conclude that a child-centered policy, as promoted nowadays in Europe, will be in accordance with the values of the population. Thus, policies which promote parenting-support programs are not only accepted but seem to be welcome for the parents, helping them assume their role.


Source: Ivan, Georgiana; Da Roit, Barbara & Knijn Trudie 2015. Children First? Changing Attitudes Toward the Primacy of Children in Five European Countries. Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 36(14), 1982 – 2001.

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