Changes in qualities valued in children in the United States, 1964 to 1984

Duane F. Alwin

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35 Scopus citations


This paper examines changes that have occurred over the past few decades in parental assessments of qualities valued in children. Data are examined from eight NORC national surveys to assess the degree of change experienced in these parental values, and several explanations are considered for the observed changes. The major finding of this research supports earlier observations regarding changes in parental values. Those child qualities generally thought to be associated with obedience or conformity (to obey parents, to have good manners, to be neat and clean, and to act according to sex-role norms) are seen to have declined in importance, and the qualities generally associated with autonomy or self-direction (good sense and sound judgement, honesty, responsible, and considerate) have increased in their assessed importance to parents during this period. The potential sources of these changes are considered, and several explanations are examined. The results of these considerations suggest that changes in levels of schooling, a primary antecedent of parental autonomy versus conformity values, explains some of the change, and there appears to be support for the role of other cohort-related or "generational" factors. The results also provide evidence, as hypothesized, that an important source of change in parental autonomy vs. conformity values over this period is among persons of Catholic background, especially those persons born after the Great Depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-236
Number of pages42
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1989

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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