Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Relationship between Social Class and Childbearing Behaviors: Parents' Perspective Taking and Value Orientations

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Relationship between Social Class and Childbearing Behaviors: Parents' Perspective Taking and Value Orientations

Article excerpt

In this study, the concept of parental perspective taking is hypothesized to explain relationships between social class and parental childrearing behaviors better than parental value orientations do. Using multiple indicators for all variables in a Dutch sample of 237 mothers and fathers, we identified a structural equation model with latent variables for social class, value orientations, perspective taking, and childrearing behaviors. Results show that the level of parental perspective taking plays a mediating role between social class and parental behavior. Moreover, both value orientations and childrearing behaviors appear to be dependent on parental perspective taking.

Key Words: childrearing, parental perspective taking, social class, value orientations.

In socialization research, much emphasis is traditionally placed on the mediating role of parental goals and values to explain relations between social class and childrearing (Kohn, 1963, 1969, 1976; LeVine 1974, 1988). The general finding is that parents from lower social strata are characterized by more controlling and less supportive childrearing behaviors than parents from higher social strata. These differences in childrearing behaviors are explained by differences in value orientations. In lower social classes, parents give priority to conformity and obedience, rather than to autonomy and self-determination (Kohn, 1969; LeVine, 1974). Although the relationships between social class and value orientations, on one hand, and between value orientations and child-rearing behaviors, on the other hand, are consistent with these hypotheses, they are rather tenuous (Gecas, 1979). This study examines whether parental perspective taking, as a basic social-cognitive structure underlying parents' values and childrearing behaviors, can explain the hypothesized relationships between social class and childrearing behaviors better than parental value orientations.

More than 30 years ago, Kohn (1959a, 1959b, 1963) hypothesized that parental values of conformity and self-determination are mediators between socioeconomic circumstances and childrearing. According to Kohn, differences in life circumstances related to the parents' occupational and social status predict differences in parental values and goals. The way parents exercise their authority was found to be different in higher and lower social classes: Parents from lower social classes were found to refer more often to situationspecific consequences of the child's behavior in discipline situations, whereas parents from higher social classes were more inclined to focus on the child's own intentions and self-control when disciplining their child. This difference in parenting behavior was found to be related to differences in goals and values. Lower-class parents emphasize more conformity to rules, regulations, and norms, and the social expectations of the environment, whereas parents from higher social strata tend to be more oriented toward autonomy and selfdetermination, and act and behave according to internalized norms and principles. These value orientations of conformity and self-determination are hypothesized to originate from the working circumstances of the parents and their occupational conditions. Working-class parents are involved in a work environment that is hierarchical, structured, and routinized. Conformity to requests and assignments is expected. Parents who are not working class, on the other hand, find themselves in a work environment with less emphasis on routine and predictable activities and with more emphasis on their own responsibility and selfdirection (Kohn, 1963, 1969).

Kohn did not test the entire model being proposed. Specifically, his work failed to test whether value orientations function as a mediating link between social class and childrearing practices (Gecas, 1979). Results from other studies appear to support Kohn's hypotheses. Studies that examined the relationship between social class and parental values (Wright & Wright, 1976) showed that lower-class parents are more likely to value conformity in their children, whereas parents from a higher social class are more likely to value autonomy in their children. …

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