The Family Gap

Political pundits are talking a lot this election year about a gender gap--a difference in political opinions between men and women. But pollsters recently announced the discovery of a much larger difference. They're calling it the family gap. A Reader's Digest opinion poll shows that on cultural values, there's a deep split between voters with children and voters without children. Take, for example, the issue of abortion: Only 48 percent of parents favor abortion, compared to 72 percent of singles. On the issue of working mothers: A huge 74 percent of parents approve of mothers staying home with young children, compared to 53 percent of the childless. On homosexuality: Only 28 percent of parents believe homosexuals have a right to marry, compared to 45 percent of the childless. Asked to choose a political label, 64 percent of parents said conservative, while among the childless 46 percent call themselves liberal. This striking gap holds right across lines of age, gender, income, and region. The only factor affecting it is race: On several issues, black parents are even more conservative than white parents. On drugs, for example, 18 percent of white parents favor legalizing marijuana, but among black parents the number drops to 4 percent. In the past, political analysts considered a five-to-ten-point gap in the opinions of population groups to be significant. But the Reader's Digest poll found that on several issues the family gap tops 20 points--much higher than the gender gap ever was. Why is the family gap so large? It seems that the experience of parenthood itself deepens and matures young adults. The responsibility, the sacrifice, the commitment, the new sense of the future, all combine to shape parents' attitudes on key moral issues. Psychologists used to speak as though all our development took place in the growing-up years. Toilet training and thumb sucking seemed to set a person's character for life. But today psychologists view all of life as a series of developmental steps to maturity--from youth to marriage, raising a family, and old age. Now, that doesn't mean everyone has to marry and have children to be mature. Some of us have no choice in these matters. But generally speaking, those who follow the normal adult pattern are statistically more likely to develop mature character than those who choose a prolonged yuppie adolescence. Once again we see the wisdom of the biblical ethic, which upholds marriage and the family. Not only because it's the best arrangement for raising children, but also because it's a way for adults to build strong character. Of course, the remarkable similarity in outlook among parents also makes them a potentially powerful voting bloc. The editor of Reader's Digest calls the family gap "a powerful hidden force in presidential politics." We've heard a lot over the years about the silent majority and the moral majority. But the real untapped political power in America today may be held by the parent majority.


Chuck Colson


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