After extensive sociological research at the University of Pennsylvania, an amazing conclusion was reached: when people become parents, they become more conservative. Around 2,610 adults around the world were surveyed, and it was found that mothers and fathers gave more conservative answers than childless and childless.
Is this what London Cockneys used to call “blind flashes of the bleeding obvious”? Isn’t it natural that most parents would grow armor to protect their children from some of the risks they have blithely taken on? Uncles and aunts also have this reflex.
My older brother, who once took the pilot’s seat in an old wartime Spitfire despite not being able to fly, became obsessively wary of his nephews crossing main roads. “Wait for the green man!” yelled the guy who had himself once driven 100mph (and also had the resulting accident).
But then it’s often those who know the dangers who are alerted to the warning lights, and my brother’s reactions were similar to my own. I blush with shame at the risks I once took—swimming through dangerous eddies, going on boozy dates with total strangers to unknown places. Friedrich Nietzsche’s advice was the code to life: “Live dangerously!” Now I make a fuss about safety and convey warnings of the dangers of life to grandchildren. Conservative Beware!
And yet the Pennsylvania Principle does not apply to everyone. I can imagine people in their 70s being just as dashingly radical as they were in their 20s; and parents whose own offspring are more conservative than they are. In public, Jeremy Corbyn, 73, former British Labor leader, is a vivid example of someone who retained exactly the same anti-establishment views in his 70s as in his 20s.
He still believes in Marxist principles and remains an undiluted socialist. He is still against any war. Marriage (several times) and fatherhood have not affected his ideas of a free lifestyle, and he remains an outspoken anti-monarchist (although, as he admitted, he had some pleasant conversations with Queen Elizabeth when they discussed making jam – his hobbies).
Jeremy’s older brother Piers, 75, is even more radical. As an astrophysics expert, he constantly sticks to freeways to protest the destruction of the planet by cars, or leads a demonstration where he claims vaccinations are a hoax of evil capitalists.
In contrast, to cite another example from across the water, Liz Truss seems to match the Pennsylvania study. As a young woman, she was an anti-monarchist and accompanied her mother to the feminist-pacifist demos “Ban the Bomb”. In keeping with marriage and motherhood, she transitioned to a full-fledged Conservative. Not only was she a monarchist, she was also the last British Prime Minister to ‘kiss hands’ (the initiation ritual between monarch and Prime Minister) with the Queen.
Truss also chose a domestically conservative path. At some point she left her husband for another MP. However, she reunited with Hugh O’Leary and subsequently declared herself “very happily married”. Social conservatism agrees with experience here. People learn from their wrong decisions.
Parents can become conservative, pitting their own child’s best interests against their own more radical principles. You can choose a school that upholds more traditional values where (perhaps not coincidentally) the teaching is just better.
I know more than one grandparent who championed a secular education system whose cute little grandkids did so well in Gonzaga or Mount Anville. However, they are not to be blamed or accused of hypocrisy: it is in our DNA to do what we believe is best for the family.
And sometimes it’s the kids themselves who are to blame for conservative reflexes. I well remember my young sons’ pitiful cries of “PLEASE, MUM, DON’T BE EMBARrassed” whenever there was a risk of turning up at a school function in funky clothes or, God forbid, a flashy hat.
In my experience – this is just anecdotal – daughters tend to be more relaxed. Kerry-based artist Pauline Bewick, who recently died aged 86, has remained a free spirit throughout her life and her daughters celebrated her for who she was.
The Pennsylvania study focused on social rather than political conservatism – specifically examining attitudes towards marriage and abortion. Parents tend to be more conservative in these areas than non-parents.
Perhaps this is because parents (a) typically want grandchildren, so tend to be pro-natalist, and (b) even when they support divorce, they fear their own adult children’s marriages will break up. Flashes of bleeding evident, perhaps?
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/of-course-parenthood-makes-people-more-conservative-but-the-notion-that-it-rids-mammies-and-daddies-of-their-wild-side-is-a-myth-41987234.html Of course, parenthood makes people more conservative, but the notion that it unleashes the wild side in moms and dads is a myth