Family Diversity
It's How  We Live


Americans idealize tradition but have inclusive view of "family"
PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly / October 19, 2005
Excerpts from "Faith and the Family" Poll
Report by
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Key Findings

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 married.

• 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.

Policy Responses

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 debate.

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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