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For American Parents, Differing Incomes Mean Divergent Concerns

More than 90 percent of American parents think they are doing a good or very good job raising their kids, according to a Pew poll. iStockphoto hide caption

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More than 90 percent of American parents think they are doing a good or very good job raising their kids, according to a Pew poll.

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Forget the debate over participation trophies. The starkest divides in American parenting have less to do with warring philosophies and more to do with money, according to a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The poll of more than 1,807 parents finds that income and family structure powerfully shape parents' concerns and children's opportunities.

But first, some bright spots:

More than 80 percent of parents say they're somewhat or very satisfied with the quality of their children's education.

Nine in 10 parents say being a parent is enjoyable and rewarding either all or most of the time (although parents with college degrees are less likely to say it's always enjoyable).

Percentage of parents, by gender and age group, who say they are doing "a very good job" as a parent (the highest option given). Source: Pew Research Center survey of parents with children under 18, Sept. 15-Oct. 13, 2015. Pew Research Center/NPR hide caption

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And overall, Pew finds most American parents — more than 90 percent — say they are doing either a good or a very good job as a parent.

Mothers between 18 and 34 are more likely than any other group to give themselves the highest rating for their parenting: 57 percent say they are doing a "very good job as a parent." (Fathers in that age range, as well as parents in older age groups, rank themselves as "very good" less than half of the time.)

Parents of young kids are more likely than parents of teenagers to think they are doing well, Pew finds, but researchers say that the confidence of millennial moms stood out even after controlling for the age of their children.

Pew researchers note that the percentage of children living in a two-parent household, including cohabitating couples and same-sex couples, is at the lowest point in more than half a century.

Married and partnered parents say they feel more support in raising their children, and married parents are more likely to feel satisfied with their involvement in their children's education.

The organization also finds that parents' income affects their experiences in ways that aren't necessarily surprising, but are nonetheless striking.

Wealthier families (with incomes above $75,000) feel far more positive about their neighborhoods than middle-income or low-income families, for instance, and rate available after-school programs much higher. Children in wealthier families are more likely to do after-school enrichment programs.

Income is also linked to different concerns, Pew finds.

Among families earning less than $30,000, 59 percent of parents say they worry their child will be kidnapped, and more than half worry their kid will be beaten up; wealthy parents are far less concerned about those risks. Lower-income parents are also more concerned about teen pregnancy and far more concerned about legal trouble.

Yet some parental worries are shared across the economic spectrum: "At least half of all parents, regardless of income, worry that their children might be bullied or struggle with anxiety or depression at some point," Pew finds.

Here are a few other highlights from the survey:

  • Spanking: Very few parents report using physical discipline frequently, but 1 in 6 say they spank their children occasionally.
  • Screen time: Ninety percent of parents with school-aged children say their kids watch TV, movies or videos on a typical day; 81 percent of parents with children under 6 say their kids watch videos or play video games daily. Parents are split about whether they think their kids spend too much time looking at screens.
  • Over-involvement: There is a racial divide over whether it is possible for parents to be too involved in their kids' education. Three-quarters of black parents and two-thirds of Hispanic parents say there is no such thing, while more than half of white parents think it is a real risk.
  • Child care: Across the board, parents of young children say it's difficult to find affordable, high-quality child care. Wealthier families tend to rely on day-care centers and preschools, while lower-income families turn to family members.
  • Aspirations: A majority of parents, regardless of income or demographic group, hope their kids grow up to be honest, ethical, caring and compassionate. But, Pew says, "black parents place more value than white parents on raising their kids to be hardworking, ambitious and financially independent."
  • Culpability: Pew finds black parents, as well as Hispanic parents, are "more likely than white parents to say their children's successes and failures mostly reflect the job they're doing as parents, while whites are more likely to say this mostly reflects their children's own strengths and weakness."

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