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Deseret News-BYU survey: Emotional, physical resources key to how kids fare

The American Family Survey looks at family against backdrop of pandemic, protests and election

How the coronavirus pandemic will impact children into the future depends in large part on the resources — both emotional and physical — that those children have, according to a panel of experts who explored findings Tuesday from the sixth annual American Family Survey.

The American Family Survey is a collaboration of the Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. The nationally representative survey is conducted by YouGov and explores multiple aspects of family life, including relationships, economics, politics, health and culture, as well as their interplay.

“I think it depends on which children we are talking about,” author and Brookings Institution senior scholar in economics Richard V. Reeves said during the launch of the new survey, live streamed from Washington, D.C. “I think what we’re going to see is the pandemic will deepen already existing divides.”

He noted families are being drawn closer together, especially those with “the resources, time, availability to really invest in their children.” Some families don’t have the luxury of being able to do that, he said.

Another Brookings Institution scholar, Camille Busette, said the impacts of recent events on families will depend largely on their circumstances.

Doug Wilks, editor of the Deseret News, spoke of his pride in the survey and what it says about American families, including what they value and who they are. He noted Utah’s position in the Intermountain West.

”We really believe we are at the crossroads of the West with a clear view of that which is important to America. Namely, we believe that the family is the strength of a civil society and we are committed to understanding how societal changes are affecting the family and, conversely, how the strength of the family can lead and influence the country for good.”

The survey explores many topics of family life, this year often framed against the backdrop of the pandemic and protests centered on race and policy brutality.

What about the kids?

How children fare was an important part of the 2020 survey’s findings. Study co-authors Jeremy Pope and Christopher Karpowitz, who co-direct the center at BYU, reported that parents are concerned about their children, but especially about their boys and whether they will grow up to be successful adults (42% expressed more concern for boys vs. 34% for girls). Liberals were slightly more concerned about girls, while conservatives were more concerned about boys.

But when asked about their own children, not just children in general, respondents who identified as liberal were concerned about their own boys at the level most conservatives worried about boys in general, said Reeves, who noted that concerns about sons and daughters should not pit boys and girls and their needs against each other.

Interestingly, the survey found more adults thought their daughters could grow up to be president — though enthusiasm for having either sons or daughters enter politics was very low. Nine in 10 adults said no thanks for a child pursuing politics as a career. And most reported any interest they’d had in running for office had waned.

Part of the panel discussion focused on inequity not just in how children will emerge from the pandemic, but in their current situations. Reeves noted that the schools that have gone online-only disproportionately serve Black and Hispanic children. Kids who fare well with online learning are those who are already doing well academically, while those who are struggling tend to fall further behind in a remote teaching environment, he said.

“I can easily imagine that for some young people, they’re almost unscathed from this. And for others it will be life-definingly bad,” he said.

But most teens report they’ve grown closer to their families during the pandemic, Brad Wilcox, an Institute for Family Studies scholar and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, said of his own research, to be released next month.

Wilcox said how families are doing during the pandemic depends in part on their relationships and noted those in committed relationships have been more resilient. The survey found those in relationships are also less likely to report loneliness.

The survey did not find an increase in loneliness due to the pandemic. Karpowitz told the Deseret News that was true even among older Americans, but noted that a majority of those in the survey were married, which seemed to be protective against loneliness.

Together, then apart

Reeves and Busette said that American families seemed to come together for a time on racial injustice, then they became more polarized again.

Americans were impacted, Busette said, by what she called “a visceral reaction” to seeing George Floyd’s death at the hands of police and how for a time it drew Americans together, regardless of their politics. But eventually Republicans and Democrats split in their opinion of how serious racial issues are and whether people are disadvantaged by their race.

Busette said the division came when people realized “implications of that from a policy perspective, which I think were spun differently depending on what party you were in.” Improving things would require change — and not necessarily changes that everyone would support.

Advisors for the 2020 American Family Survey include Reeves, Wilcox, Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute and Marcy Carlson of the University of Wisconsin.

The entire survey is online at deseret.com/american-family-survey.

Panelists discuss the 2020 American Family Survey Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020
Brookings.edu