Americans idealize tradition but have
inclusive view of "family"
PBS Religion and Ethics
October 19, 2005
Excerpts from "Faith and the Family" Poll
Report by Greenberg
Quinlan Rosner Research
Beliefs and Reality
• Americans hold a flexible definition of the family. Family can be
about immediate relations, but for many it is also about love,
togetherness, and caring for those held dear.
• Only one-third of Americans define a family in the most
traditional sense as a “mother, father, and children,” or “a
husband, wife and children.”
• At the same time, many Americans aspire to the idea of marriage
and kids. They also realize that the reality does not always live up
to the fairy tale. Even the most devout acknowledge that divorce may
be necessary and that cohabitation can be acceptable.
• Religious conservatives such as evangelical Protestants and
traditional Catholics hold more traditional notions about family
structure than religious liberals. At the same time, though they
view God’s plan for marriage as one man, one woman, for life,
relatively few evangelical Protestants and traditional Catholics
feel divorce is a sin.
• Protestants, mainlines as well as evangelicals, are more likely
than others to get married. However, they are no more likely than
other groups to stay married, and remarriage is fairly high among
both these groups. Church attendance plays into this dynamic,
however, as couples who attend church regularly are less likely to
have been remarried.
• Although evangelical parents are more likely to feel a family
suffers when a woman has a full-time job, they are in fact more
likely than average to be in two-income households.
Religion and Parenting
• Americans tend to hold fairly traditional views of child rearing.
Parents, even those who do not live in the arrangements themselves,
tend to agree that it is better for children if their parents are
• Parents, regardless if they are married or not, remain quite
religious. Though unmarried parents attend church less than married
parents, religion is every bit as important in their lives, and they
adopt many informal religious practices outside church.
• Parents have a lot of worries when it comes to their children,
but, on balance, parents in non-traditional families worry more than
parents in traditional families. Some of this reflects the basic
economic insecurity of non-traditional families, but they also worry
more about protecting their children from bad influences such as sex
and violence on television and the Internet.
• Parents do not worry
about their children’s faith; confident their children will decide
to adopt their beliefs, parents are not concerned about a successful
transmission of religious beliefs to their children.
• Americans view family as
something quite personal. When it comes to government initiatives,
most parents would prefer the government stay away from matters of
the home and family.
• “Moral values” tend to
reflect concerns about personal behavior and the ability to
inculcate those values in their children. Although there are
differences by religious tradition, relatively few cite issues like
abortion and gay marriage as an important part of the moral values
• Although Americans hold
to a traditional definition of marriage, Americans are much more
split on whether gays and lesbians should be able to have adoption
rights so they can legally adopt children.
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