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Journal ArticleDOI

Parental values in the UK

26 Mar 2019-British Journal of Sociology (Wiley)-Vol. 70, Iss: 5, pp 2092-2115
TL;DR: It is shown that parents in service class occupations place significantly more importance on 'thinking for self' than 'obey parents' compared to those in routine manual occupations and that although class matters, the relationship between education and parental values is particularly strong.
Abstract: This article investigates the extent to which parental values differ between social groups in the UK at the start of the twenty‐first century. The study of parental values is an important area of sociological enquiry that can inform scholarship from across the social sciences concerned with educational inequality and cultural variability in family life. We draw on data from the Millennium Cohort Study to show how parent’s social class, religion, religiosity, race and ethnicity, and education are related to the qualities they would like their children to have. Our rank‐ordered regression models show that parents in service class occupations place significantly more importance on ‘thinking for self’ than ‘obey parents’ compared to those in routine manual occupations. We also show that although class matters, the relationship between education and parental values is particularly strong. Parenting values also differ by parental racial and ethnic background and by levels of religiosity.

Summary (4 min read)

Introduction

  • Parents want their children’s lives to go well - they typically want their children to be happy, to have jobs that they find fulfilling, and enjoy financial security.
  • Clearly though, the concerns parents have for their children extend far beyond worries about socio-economic outcomes.
  • The authors therefore re-evaluate existing theories in the light of significant social, economic and cultural change.

Class and parental values

  • For Kohn, the answer lies in the division of labour: people in particular class positions are exposed to distinctive occupational conditions and experiences that influence their personalities and value orientations (Kohn and Schooler 1969, 1982, 1983).
  • Working-class (and poor) parents, by contrast, tend to stress conformity to external authority (2009: 681).
  • Kohn’s work mainly focused on the relationship between class and values but he also recognized that parental values were connected to a range of socio-demographic characteristics.
  • This suggests that parental values vary not only between religious denominations but also by levels of religiosity.

Education and parental values

  • Prior studies suggest that parents with higher levels of education are more likely to stress the importance of self-direction and autonomy (Kohn 1990; Alwin 1989).
  • Kohn cautiously argued that the effect of education on parental values was additive and independent of class (Kohn 1977: xxvii).
  • Typically, those who have attended university are more likely to consistently adopt ‘liberal’ positions than those with lower levels of education (Gross 2013).
  • Therefore, one possibility is that the dispositions that people acquire through education informs their parental values and beliefs about how children should be raised.
  • Central to their theory of social and cultural reproduction is the claim that educational institutions socialize young people to fit into the existing class structure and therefore ‘the school produces, rewards, and labels personal characteristics relevant to the staffing of positions in the hierarchy’ (2011: 130).

Data, variables and method

  • Six surveys – or ‘sweeps’ – have been completed, occurring every 2-4 years from birth.
  • In this sweep information was collected on the three most important qualities parents would like to instil in their child.
  • Table 1 shows the distribution of ranks by the possible values and mean ranks for each quality, where 0 indicates a quality was not ranked at all and 3 indicates that it was ranked as most important.
  • The values ‘think for self’ and ‘help others’ are very likely to be listed as one of the three selected qualities.

Insert Table 1 here

  • The authors operationalize social class through the U.K. National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC) that is directly related to the EGP-class schema and was developed to capture differences in employment relations (Erikson and Goldthorpe 2002).
  • The authors variable consists of seven NS-SEC categories and an eighth category including families where the partner with the ‘higher’ class is not on leave and not working in both sweeps 1 and 2, and not providing any occupation information:.
  • To study the relationship between religion and parenting values the authors use a variable that is based on the main parent’s religion and consists of the categories: (1) no religion, (2) Christian (no denomination), (3) Christian (other Christian groups), (4) Roman Catholic, (5) Protestant, (6) Muslim, and (7) other religion including Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Buddhist and other religions.
  • Table 2 presents descriptive statistics for all independent variables included in the analysis.

Insert Table 2 here

  • To operationalize religiosity, the authors employ a variable that is based on the main parent’s report of how often they attend religious services.
  • The variable corresponds to the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) level or its equivalent and, as for the social class variable, is defined through the parent with the higher educational level.
  • In sweep 2 the survey size was 15808 and after list wise deletion of cases with missing values on the variables of interest the sample size was 13250.
  • The authors follow Hansen (2012) for guidance on survey data analysis with the MCS.
  • This enables us to study whether parents find a value relatively important even if they have not listed it as the most important value.

Results

  • The authors start with presenting the mean ranks for values across the core independent variables (Table 3).
  • The bivariate analysis provides some initial support for their hypotheses and existing theories.
  • The mean rank for ‘thinking for self’ increases with social class position and educational level: for instance, higher service class parents and parents with NVQ level 5 rank this value on average at around 2.28 and hence higher than the average of all parents in the sample with a rank of 2 (see Table 1).
  • Parents who attend religious meetings frequently, and who indicated a religious affiliation (except Protestants and Christians with no denomination) tend to value obey higher on average than parents who did not indicate a religion.
  • For race and ethnicity, the authors find the lowest average ranking of obedience among ‘White’ parents.

Social class

  • 3 Multicollinearity tests produce variance inflation factors at low and non-problematic levels.
  • Table 4 shows the differences between each NS-SEC-class and the reference category (routine-class) in terms of giving a higher rank to a parental value compared to the reference value ‘think for self’.
  • Providing support for Hypothesis 1, and in line with the results presented in Table 3, the authors find an association between social class and the importance attached to thinking for self.
  • The odds that higher service-class parents rank individual obedience over individual thinking are around 47 percent lower (1-0.528) than the odds that routine-class parents do so.

Insert Table 4 here

  • For all the other parental values the authors also find that higher service class parents rank independent thinking higher than working-class parents.
  • Table 4 shows that relatively small differences between the higher service-class and the routine-class appear in terms of the odds of ranking independent thinking higher than ‘help others’ (0.757; p<0.01) or ‘work hard’ (0.679; p<0.01) while the corresponding class differences are the largest for ‘obey parents’ (0.528; p<0.001).
  • With regard to religiosity, as measured through frequency of attendance at religious meetings, the authors find evidence in favour of Hypothesis 3: very religious parents consistently rank ‘thinking for self’ lower than most other values.
  • All ethnic and racialised groups place greater emphasis on learning religious values when compared to ‘White’ parents and with regard to thinking for self.

Education

  • As the authors can see from Table 4, the relationship between education and the ranking of values is similar to the relationship with social class but the significance levels are higher across most education categories.
  • The higher the main parent’s level of education the greater the difference in the odds of rating ‘think for self’ over ‘obey parents’: highly educated parents systematically rank the former higher than the latter, as compared to lower educated parents.
  • Similarly, for social class the odds ratios of ranking ‘help others’ and ‘work hard’ when comparing parents with the highest educational level to the lowest are relatively modest, in comparison to the corresponding changes for ‘obey parents’.
  • The fact that their model controls for social class, religion and racial and ethnic background, which are associated with educational attainment, suggests that educational attainment is a particularly powerful driver of differences in parenting values.

Control variables

  • The control variables reveal further interesting results.
  • Table 4 shows for instance that very young parents (under 20 years) place more importance on obedience, helping others and working hard than on self-direction when compared to parents who are between 20 and 29 years or in their 30s and 40s.
  • Child’s gender also has an effect on the quality ‘being popular’: the odds that parents rank this value over ‘thinking for self’ are 1.14 times higher (p>0.05) when their child is male instead of female.
  • Parents with a relatively high family income rate independent thinking over obedience and if the child lives in a family where only one parent is present the parent tends to rank ‘thinking for self’ significantly higher than obedience, helping others and being popular.
  • Number of siblings is also positively associated with rating learning religious values, helping others and working hard over thinking for self.

Discussion and conclusion

  • Values play an important role in their lives: the authors care deeply about them, they are central to their identities, they help us to evaluate how well their lives are going, and how they should treat other people (Tiberius 2018).
  • In particular, the authors find that parental values differ strongly by level of education, religiosity and racial and ethnic background.
  • It is worth noting that their measure of class was designed to capture differences in employment relations and conditions of employment (Erikson and Goldthorpe 1992, 2002).
  • These findings are of considerable interest given the widespread political and public debates about social integration, the extent of cultural and social differences between religious, racial and ethnic groups, and how such differences relate to the socialization of children.

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1
Parental values in the U.K.
1
Abstract
This article investigates the extent to which parental values differ between social groups
in the U.K. at the start of the 21
st
century. The study of parental values is an important
area of sociological enquiry that can inform scholarship from across the social sciences
concerned with educational inequality and cultural variability in family life. We draw
on data from the Millennium Cohort Study to show how parent’s social class, religion,
religiosity, race and ethnicity, and education are related to the qualities they would like
their children to have. Our rank-ordered regression models show that parents in service
class occupations place significantly more importance on ‘thinking for self’ than ‘obey
parents’ compared to those in routine manual occupations. We also show that although
class matters, the relationship between education and parental values is particularly
strong. Parenting values also differ by parental racial and ethnic background and by
levels of religiosity.
Introduction
Parents want their children’s lives to go well - they typically want their children to be happy,
to have jobs that they find fulfilling, and enjoy financial security. Clearly though, the
concerns parents have for their children extend far beyond worries about socio-economic
outcomes. They care about the sort of person their child is they want them to have
certain qualities they take a stance on the sort of person they want them to be. That is,
they hold parental values. As Brighouse and Swift (2014) note, the processes and interactions
involved in the shaping of values are a central part of family life. Parental values are also a
significant manifestation of cultural variation between social and economic groups that can
motivate different patterns of behaviour.
This paper provides a detailed analysis of the relationship between social structure and
parental values in the U.K. Using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, we assess how
parental values are related to parents social class, religious background, religiosity, ethnic
and racial background and educational attainment. In doing so, we refocus attention on a
once vibrant area of sociological scholarship. Kohn’s influential program of research,
which began in the 1950s, revealed that middle class parents were more likely to value self-
direction in their children whereas working class parents were more likely to value
conformity to authority (Kohn 1959, 1967, 1976 and 1977). In Lenski’s classic study of the
impact of religion on family life, he found that Catholic parents in Detroit were more likely
than Protestants to prioritise obedience over autonomy (Lenski 1963). Although some

2
subsequent research attempted to build on this seminal work (Alwin 1984, 1986 and 1990;
Sieben and Halman 2015; Starks and Robinson 2005), there have been relatively few recent
studies of parental values, even fewer that focus on the U.K., and none that make use of
high quality, nationally representative data.
In the decades since the seminal studies of parental values were carried out, the U.K. has
changed considerably. In particular, we have seen shifts in the occupational structure and
the nature of work, growing religious, racial and ethnic diversity, changing attitudes
towards child-rearing, and an alleged weakening of traditional class identities (Bruce 2016;
Bottero 2004; Gallie et al. 2018; Heath and Cheung 2007). This raises the question of
whether the claims advanced by Kohn, Lenski and others about the relationship between
social structure and parental values retain empirical support and whether they apply to the
U.K. at the start of the 21
st
century. We therefore re-evaluate existing theories in the light
of significant social, economic and cultural change.
By investigating the social distribution of parental values, this paper makes an important
contribution to diverse literatures concerned with describing and explaining variability in
family life, parental and religious socialization, the relationship between class and cognition
and the micro-level mechanisms that may generate educational and social inequality (Ball
et al. 2004; Harkness and Super 2002; Irwin and Elley 2011, Lareau 2006, 2011; Rollock et
al. 2015; Scourfield et al. 2013; Starks and Robinson 2005; Tudge et al. 2000). Moreover,
the sociological study of values has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years, with
researchers investigating the social patterning of values, how they can motivate action, and
arguing for the need to integrate values into our models of culture (Hitlin and Piliavin
2004; Miles 2015; Wuthnow 2008). This paper contributes to these on-going efforts.
Studies of parental values have tended to focus on accounting for the relative importance
parents place on autonomy and obedience to authority. Although we too focus on these
values, our analyses focus on a broader range of values parents ascribe importance to,
including the more prosocial value of ‘helping others’ and also the ‘learning of religious
values’.
Class and parental values
The work of Kohn and his collaborators represents the most sustained analysis of how
social class is related to parental values (Kohn 1959, 1976, 1977, 2006; Kohn and Schooler

3
1969). Kohn defines parental values as ‘…standards of desirability – criteria of preference’
(Kohn 1977: 18) and as ‘those standards that parents would most like to see embodied in
their children’s behaviour’ (Kohn 2006: 18). He argues that middle- and working-class
parents differ with regard to the relative importance they place on two values:
…the higher social class positions, the more likely they are to value self-
direction for their children, and that the lower their social class positions are,
the more likely they are to value conformity to external authority… (Kohn
1977: xxviii)
Moreover, Kohn contends that these value orientations influence parents’ behaviors - for
example, how children are disciplined and how roles and responsibilities are allocated
within the family. The relationship between class and parental values was observed not
only in the United States and Italy, where Kohn conducted his early studies, but also in
later work that included Poland and Japan societies with strikingly different cultural and
economic conditions (Kohn 2006).
What are the mechanisms that link parental values to social class? For Kohn, the answer
lies in the division of labour: people in particular class positions are exposed to distinctive
occupational conditions and experiences that influence their personalities and value
orientations (Kohn and Schooler 1969, 1982, 1983). He argues that a defining
characteristic of professional and middle-class occupations is the opportunity to exercise
discretion and self-direction. In contrast, working-class occupations are more likely to
be characterized by close supervision, a lack of task discretion, a routinized flow of work,
and the need to follow the demands of supervisors and managers. Kohn accorded
particular significance to the ‘substantive complexity of work’ itself. That is, ‘the degree
to which performance of the work requires thought and independent judgment’ (Kohn
and Schooler 1982: 1261). The formation of parental values occurs through a generalized
learning process whereby ‘the lessons of work are directly carried over to non-
occupational realms’ (Kohn 1977: liii). It is for this reason, according to Kohn, that we
see parental values track social class background.
More recently, Lareau has returned to Kohn’s ideas in her work on class-specific parenting
strategies. Lareau (2011) argues that working class and middle-class parents, guided by
distinct cultural dispositions and values (see Weininger and Lareau 2009 and also Lareau
2006), adopt contrasting approaches to child-rearing: middle class parents engage in
‘concerted cultivation’ whereas working class parents typically follow a ‘natural growth’

4
model of parenting. Such parenting strategies are taken to be a key mechanism through
which educational and social inequality is generated. Weininger and Lareau argue that their
ethnographic data broadly supports Kohn’s central finding:
…we find abundant evidence that in the day-to-day business of childrearing,
middle-class parents tend to stress the importance of self-direction…
Working-class (and poor) parents, by contrast, tend to stress conformity to
external authority (2009: 681).
Values form part of the content of the cultural repertoires and logics of childrearing they
identify; they are taken to matter because they are connected to distinct patterns of
socialization and parenting strategies which influence the transmission of advantage and
disadvantage. Interestingly, Weininger and Lareau highlight the ‘paradoxical pathways’
parents take in attempting to develop these values in their children: although middle class
parents valued self-direction, they routinely placed their children in situations where they
were subject to ‘adult micro-management and control. In contrast, working-class children
‘are often placed in settings that leave them largely free of parental control’ (ibid: 681).
Although Lareau’s work suggests that Kohn’s insights retain importance, her research
draws on a small sample of parents in the U.S. Quantitative analyses, and studies focusing
on other countries, can therefore complement this research. Moreover, much of Kohn’s
empirical work is now decades old and this raises the question of whether his findings still
hold true. For example, shifting cultural ideals about how parents should support the
emotional and cognitive development of their children (Schaub 2010), increased
participation in higher education, and a rise in ‘post-materials values’ (Inglehart and Welzel
2005) - whereby people place increasing importance on self-expression, autonomy, and
‘self-actualization’ (Held et al. 2009) - may have vitiated some of Kohn’s core theoretical
claims. Of particular significance is evidence suggesting a decline in workplace autonomy
and task discretion in the U.K. Gallie et al. (2018: 4) provide evidence that the decline in
task discretion is particularly striking for those in ‘intermediate’ occupations those
employed in ‘administrative, skilled manual and personal service’ occupations. It might be
expected, therefore, that class-based differences in parental values may have decreased.
Based on the existing literature we derive the following hypothesis:
H1: The higher a parent’s social class the more likely they are to value ‘thinking for
self’ and less likely to value ‘obedience to parents’.
Beyond class: religion, religiosity and racialised groups

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TL;DR: Preliminary findings suggest that the SDQ functions as well as the Rutter questionnaires while offering the following additional advantages: a focus on strengths as as difficulties; better coverage of inattention, peer relationships, and prosocial behaviour; a shorter format; and a single form suitable for both parents and teachers, perhaps thereby increasing parent-teacher correlations.
Abstract: A novel behavioural screening questionnaire, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), was administered along with Rutter questionnaires to parents and teachers of 403 children drawn from dental and psychiatric clinics. Scores derived from the SDQ and Rutter questionnaires were highly correlated; parent-teacher correlations for the two sets of measures were comparable or favoured the SDQ. The two sets of measures did not differ in their ability to discriminate between psychiatric and dental clinic attenders. These preliminary findings suggest that the SDQ functions as well as the Rutter questionnaires while offering the following additional advantages: a focus on strengths as well as difficulties; better coverage of inattention, peer relationships, and prosocial behaviour; a shorter format; and a single form suitable for both parents and teachers, perhaps thereby increasing parent-teacher correlations.

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TL;DR: The concept of values has been extensively studied in sociological work as discussed by the authors, with a focus on linking values with culture, social structure, and individual behavior, and identifying important research findings and suggest areas for future inquiry.
Abstract: Over the past decades, the concept of values has gone in and out of fashion within sociology. Relatively recent advances in both the conceptualization and measurement of values offer the potential for a reincorporation of values into sociological work. Sociologists often employ cursory understandings of values, imbuing values with too much determinism or viewing them as too individually subjective. The concept is employed sporadically in sociological subdisciplines. This review maps out the contours of the various approaches to linking values with culture, social structure, and individual behavior. We discuss theoretical and empirical approaches to values, organizing the broad literature to address three questions: (a) What are values? (b) Where do values come from? and (c) What do values do? We identify important research findings and suggest areas for future inquiry.

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Abstract: In earlier work, we assessed a longitudinal causal model of the reciprocal effects of the substative complexity of work and intellectual flexibility. In this paper, we greatly expand the causal model to consider sumultaneously several structural imperatives of the job and three major dimensions of personality-ideational flexibility, a self directed orientation to self and society, and a sense of distress. The analysis demonstrates that the structural imperatives of the job affect personality. Self-directed work leads to ideational flexibility and to a self-directed orientation to self and society; oppressive working conditions lead to distress. These findings strongly support a learning generalization model. Personality, in turn, has important consequences for an individual's place in the job structure and in the system of social stratification. In particular, both ideational flexibility and a self-directed orientation lead, over time, to more responsible jobs that allow greater latitude for occupational ...

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TL;DR: The authors examine programs that serve poor families—and thus disproportionately serve minority families— and find that home- and center-based programs with a parenting component improve parental nurturance and discipline and some family literacy programs also improve readiness.
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Abstract: The argument of this analysis is that class differences in parent-child relationships are a product of differences in parental values (with middle-class parents' values centering on self-direction and working-class parents' values on conformity to external proscriptions); these differences in values, in turn, stem from differences in the conditions of life of the various social classes (particularly occupational conditions-middle-class occupations requiring a greater degree of self-direction, working-class occupations, in larger measure, requiring that one follow explicit rules set down by someone in authority). Values, thus, form a bridge between social structure and behavior.

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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What are the contributions in this paper?

This article investigates the extent to which parental values differ between social groups in the U. K. at the start of the 21 century. The study of parental values is an important area of sociological enquiry that can inform scholarship from across the social sciences concerned with educational inequality and cultural variability in family life. The authors draw on data from the Millennium Cohort Study to show how parent ’ s social class, religion, religiosity, race and ethnicity, and education are related to the qualities they would like their children to have. The authors also show that although class matters, the relationship between education and parental values is particularly strong. This paper provides a detailed analysis of the relationship between social structure and parental values in the U. K. Using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, the authors assess how parental values are related to parents ’ social class, religious background, religiosity, ethnic and racial background and educational attainment. Kohn ’ s influential program of research, which began in the 1950s, revealed that middle class parents were more likely to value selfdirection in their children whereas working class parents were more likely to value conformity to authority ( Kohn 1959, 1967, 1976 and 1977 ). 

By providing new evidence on these important manifestations of social and cultural difference between parents, the authors contribute to research from across the social sciences interested in studying variability in family-life and parenting. However, one possibility is that their measure of class may obscure the fact that parental values are in fact structured at a more occupationally disaggregated level. In future work the authors aim to explore this possibility. An important direction for future research is also to evaluate the extent to which parental values influence how parents raise their children.