Many policies designed to make life easier for families with children are supported by majorities of Americans across the political spectrum, a new YouGov survey finds. According to the poll, roughly three in four Americans favor each of certain actions by Congress including offering tax credits to families with children, increasing funding for after-school programs, providing child care subsidies for low-income families, and requiring employers to offer paid parental leave.
Most Americans aren't aware that there currently are no federal requirements regarding paid leave for new parents, and 80% believe there should be at least some, including half who think new parents should get 12 weeks or more of paid leave. Majorities of Americans believe that compared to the global average, in the U.S. there are fewer weeks of paid parental leave, more expensive child care options, and higher college tuition costs. Which members of Congress do Americans think will prioritize family-friendly policies? More say Democrats and women will than say men and Republicans will.
Support for family policies
When asked about the current level of government support available for families raising children in the U.S., far more say it is "not enough" (42%) than say it is "too much" (16%); 30% say it is "about the right amount."
More specifically, the poll asked about 10 policies affecting families with children, including ones involving tax credits, child care, paid leave, adoption, health care, and housing. Roughly two-thirds or more Americans say they strongly or somewhat support each of the 10 policies, and fewer than one in four strongly or somewhat oppose each one:
- 77% support offering tax credits for families with children
- 76% support increasing funding for adoption and foster care services
- 75% support increasing funding for after-school programs
- 75% support increasing funding for health care for families with children
- 75% support providing child care subsidies for low-income families
- 74% support expanding publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs
- 74% support increasing funding for affordable housing for families with children
- 74% support providing tax incentives for companies that offer family-friendly benefits
- 70% support requiring employers to offer paid parental leave for all working parents
- 67% support offering tax credits for families with stay-at-home parents
All of the policies receive bipartisan support, meaning that majorities of Democrats and Republicans strongly or somewhat support each one. However, larger shares of Democrats than Republicans are in favor of each policy. Gaps between the parties on the 10 policies range from 7 percentage points (increasing funding for adoption and foster care services) to 18 percentage points (increasing funding for health care for families with children; requiring employers to offer paid parental leave for all working parents).
Paid parental leave requirements: actual and desired amounts
The U.S. federal government guarantees eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a new child. When asked to estimate how much unpaid leave employees who recently gave birth qualify for, just 26% of Americans correctly say 12 weeks. More — 42% — say 10 weeks or less. Just 13% say more than 12 weeks, and 18% are not sure.
There is no federal law in the U.S. mandating paid leave for new parents, regardless of whether or not they gave birth to their child. This, however, does not appear to be common knowledge: Just 16% of Americans correctly say "0 weeks" when asked how much paid leave employees who recently gave birth qualify for under federal law. One in three — 35% — estimate they qualify for between 2 and 10 weeks, and 29% say 12 weeks or more. One in five — 21% — are unsure.
How much unpaid and paid leave do Americans think full-time workers should qualify for after giving birth? Just 5% of people say that workers should not be entitled to any unpaid parental leave under federal law, and the same proportion say workers shouldn't be entitled to paid leave. Most — 55% — believe workers should receive at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave. About half — 49% — believe they should get at least 12 weeks of paid leave.
Comparing the U.S. to other countries
How does the U.S. compare to other countries in its availability of accessible child care and education? Half of Americans believe that compared to the worldwide average, the U.S. offers fewer weeks of paid leave for parents after giving birth. They're correct: The U.S. is one of only six countries worldwide with no national paid parental leave. Just 20% believe the U.S. offers more weeks of paid leave than the global average, and 16% think its paid leave is about average.
About two-thirds of Americans (65%) believe the cost of center-based infant care in the U.S. exceeds that of other countries, while 13% say U.S. costs are in line with the global average and 7% say they're lower. American working parents spend nearly twice as much of their income on child care as the average within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of 38 countries that have above-average economic activity.
There is a similar perception for college tuition as for child care costs: 60% of Americans think U.S. college tuition costs are above average, 13% think they're about average, and 11% think they're below average. A 2017 study found that the U.S. has the highest average tuition costs of OECD member countries.
Who is most likely to advocate for family-friendly policies?
Which party do Americans think does a better job helping families with children? By 37% to 26%, Americans are more likely to say Democrats do a better job than to say Republicans do; 14% say the two parties do an equally good job and 24% are unsure. There is a gender gap in opinion — particularly among Republicans and Independents — of which party is better at helping families: Within each group, men are more likely than women to say Republicans are best on family policy — in part because women belonging to these groups are more likely than men to say they are unsure.
Which members of Congress do Americans think are more likely to prioritize family-friendly policies: women or men? While more than twice as many say women (36%) are more likely than men (14%) to prioritize family-friendly policies, many (32%) say they the genders are equally likely to, and 18% are not sure, according to a separate YouGov poll conducted earlier this month.
Women are especially likely to believe that women in Congress place a higher priority on family-friendly legislation: 46% say they are more likely to, while 5% say men are. About half of women either say the genders are equally likely to (28%) or are unsure (21%). Men are more divided in their responses: 25% say women are more likely to prioritize family-friendly policy and 23% say men are. Around one in three (36%) say men and women are equally likely to and 15% are unsure.
The Congressional Dads Caucus
Recently, a group of 15 Democratic members of Congress established the Congressional Dads Caucus, which aims to advance family-friendly policies and to support working dads in Congress. By 62% to 11%, Americans support the creation of this caucus. Around one in four — 27% — are unsure. Men are 10 points more likely than women to support the creation of the Dads Caucus (67% vs. 57%). Democrats and Republicans are nearly equally likely to be supportive of it (70% vs. 67%); the question did not specify the party of the founding members.
In describing the creation of the Congressional Dads Caucus, one of its founders — Representative Jimmy Gomez from California — stated that many people seem to “still believe that the woman is the default parent,” an assumption he hopes the newly formed caucus will push back against. Most Americans agree with Gomez's assessment that the default parent assumption is common: 61% say it is in the U.S. today. Just 17% say it is an uncommon assumption and 23% are unsure. While men and women have similar views on assumptions about the gender of the default parent, there are some differences based on age. Younger Americans are less likely than older Americans to say it is commonly assumed that women are the default parents.
— Linley Sanders contributed to this article
U.S. News Survey Methodology: This poll was conducted online on February 6 - 10, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.
Daily Questions Methodology: This Daily Questions survey was conducted online on January 31 - February 1, 2023 among 8,608 U.S. adults. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, U.S. census region, and political party.
- Which members of Congress do you think are more likely to prioritize family-friendly policies?
- A group of 15 members of Congress recently established the Congressional Dads Caucus, which aims to advance family-friendly policies and to support working dads in Congress. Do you support or oppose the creation of this caucus?
- In discussing the creation of the Congressional Dads Caucus, one of the founders stated that many people seem to “still believe that the woman is the default parent.” In your opinion, is this a common or uncommon assumption in the U.S. today?
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