Where Americans stand on debates over babies and childrearing

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
Linley SandersData Journalist
February 03, 2023, 2:03 AM GMT+0

From the use of technology to diapers and co-sleeping, modern parenting is riddled with debates over best practices in how to rear a child effectively. To find out where Americans stand on these issues, a recent YouGov poll asked 1,000 adult citizens — both parents and non-parents — to share their opinions on a host of parenting-related topics. The results show consensus in certain areas — such as a preference for hospital births over home births and disposable diapers over cloth ones — but contention in others — like allowing babies to use smart devices and having their ears pierced.

At what age does a baby stop being a baby?

First, a definitional question: who classifies as a baby? On this, we find little agreement. Around half of Americans say the oldest age that they'd still consider someone a baby falls between 9 months and 2 years. Within that range, the most common response is 18 months to 2 years (19%). Fewer fall in the extremes: Just 13% say a person stops being a baby at 9 months or earlier and 25% say they stop being a baby some time after turning 2.

Do Americans have preference for sons or daughters?

Polls dating back to the 1940s reveal a longstanding preference for sons over daughters in the United States. But is this still the case? When asked whether they'd rather have a baby boy or girl — regardless of any children they may currently have — most people (56%) say they have no preference, while 19% say they prefer a boy and 15% say they prefer a girl.

Men are especially likely to exhibit a preference for sons over daughters (22% vs. 12%). Women are roughly equally likely to prefer a son or a daughter (16% vs. 18%). Men and women under 45 are more likely than older Americans to have a preference when it comes to gender. Men under 30 prefer a boy over a girl (31% vs. 19%), while women under 45 are about equal in their preference for each gender (23% vs. 22%).

What color would Americans paint their child's nursery?

Preparing a nursery is one task that parents take on in the months-long lead-up to bringing their little one home. One decision involved in this process is what color to paint the room. Some people believe that certain colors are more appropriate for boys or girls, while others believe that any color can be suitable for a child's room regardless of their gender.

Our poll finds that Americans have largely traditional preferences when it comes to a baby's room color, with the largest shares saying they'd choose blue for boys and pink for girls. For boys' rooms, white and green come in a distant second and third, while for girls' purple is the next most likely to be chosen, followed by white and yellow.

Would Americans prefer a hospital or home birth?

As modern medicine has advanced and become more accessible over the last century, the share of births occurring in hospital settings in the U.S. has increased. But in recent years, home births have experienced a resurgence in popularity among certain groups. Some argue that hospitals are the safest option because they have specialized medical staff and advanced medical equipment, while others believe that home births can be just as safe and provide a more comfortable and intimate setting.

Our polling finds that two-thirds of Americans (66%) would prefer a hospital birth over a home birth (13%) if both were options available to them; 9% say they have no preference. Older Americans are far keener on hospital births than younger adults, though this is in part because younger people are less likely to have a stance on the issue. Men and women have similar views on the subject.

Would Americans prefer disposable or cloth diapers?

There has been a longstanding debate over the use of disposable versus cloth diapers. Proponents of disposable diapers argue that they are convenient and hygienic, while supporters of cloth diapers argue that they are more environmentally friendly and cost-effective long-term.

Our polling finds that by 53% to 14%, Americans prefer disposable over cloth diapers — assuming both options were available to them. One in four (23%) say they prefer both types equally and 11% are not sure. Women and older Americans are especially keen on disposable diapers relative to men and younger Americans.

What do Americans think about co-sleeping?

Another common quarrel in the realm of childrearing is over the practice of allowing babies to sleep in the same bed as their parents, also known as co-sleeping. Some people argue that co-sleeping promotes bonding and can make it easier for parents to respond to the baby's needs at night. Others argue that it increases the risk of accidental suffocation and should be avoided.

Americans are divided on this issue, though more believe co-sleeping is more harmful (33%) than beneficial (23%); 22% say it's neither harmful nor beneficial and 23% aren't sure about its effects. While a large share of young adults are unsure about the practice's risks and benefits, people who are 45 and older are more likely to view it as harmful rather than helpful.

Are Americans OK with posting photos and videos of young children on social media?

The rise of social media has prompted discussions over the appropriateness of parents posting photos and videos of their children on social media. Some people argue that doing so allows parents to share special moments with friends and family, while others argue it exposes children to potential risks, such as privacy violations and online predators.

Americans are split on this issue: 41% strongly or somewhat approve of parents posting photos or videos of their young children on social media, whereas 39% strongly or somewhat disapprove.

Do Americans think it's OK to entertain a baby with a smartphone?

Another debate involving children and technology is whether it is appropriate for parents to entertain their babies with smartphones or tablets. Certain people argue that these devices can provide a convenient way for parents to keep their babies occupied, while others say that excessive screen time can be detrimental to a child's development.

Overall, Americans are more likely to strongly or somewhat disapprove (52%) of babies' screen time than to strongly or somewhat approve of it (31%). Americans aged 45 and older are especially likely to disapprove relative to adults under 45, who are nearly evenly divided on the subject.

Do Americans think it's OK for parents to pierce a baby’s ears?

In the United States, many doctors are willing to pierce babies' ears at their parents' request. To some, this cultural tradition is seen as harmless, while others view it as the unnecessary infliction of pain. By 45% to 36%, Americans oppose this practice. However, stances are largely divided by gender: 26% of men approve of the practice relative to 44% of women. Americans who are 65 and older are far more likely to disapprove of the practice (57%) than to approve (28%).

Do Americans think it's OK for parents to have their children on a leash?

Another contention in modern parenting is the practice of using leashes to keep small children close to their parents while in public places. Some might think leashes can be a useful tool for keeping children safe in crowded or unfamiliar places, while others argue they are unnecessary and may be harmful to a child's development.

Americans are somewhat more likely to approve (48%) than disapprove (34%) of parents keeping small children on leashes when out and about in order to keep them from running off. Women are slightly more likely than men to approve.

— Carl Bialik and Matthew Smith contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on November 4 - 6, 2022 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 3%.

Image: Adobe Stock (moodboard)

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