Attachment styles — four patterns of behaving in close relationships — have become a major area of coverage in American media, particularly regarding Americans navigating the dating scene. A concept pioneered by researcher Mary Ainsworth, attachment styles are recognized as evolving from early childhood and are heavily influenced by relationships with parents or primary caregivers. Which attachment styles do Americans gravitate toward, and how might these styles affect their relationships? To better answer these questions, a recent YouGov survey asked Americans a series of questions related to attachment styles — and found major links to the attachment styles of their childhood caregivers and romantic partners, as well as to companionship and to social media usage.
To establish a baseline of attachment styles in the U.S., Americans were first presented with the descriptions of the four attachment styles and asked to identify which best describes their pattern of behaviors in close relationships. Respondents were first presented with descriptions of each of the four attachment styles.
Almost two in five Americans (38%) say they have a secure attachment style, which is characterized by being comfortable with emotional closeness, being able to trust and rely on others, and effectively communicating needs in relationships. Men and women are equally likely to say they have a secure attachment style (38% each). Secure attachment is also more prevalent among Americans 65 and older and among parents, than it is among younger adults and Americans who have never been parents.
Americans’ attachment styles correspond somewhat to their parents’ attachment styles. Most Americans who say they have a secure attachment style (58%) also say their mothers had a secure attachment style, and 53% say their fathers had a secure attachment style. Americans with an anxious attachment are the most likely out of the groups polled to say their parents have or had an anxious attachment style (29% for mother, 21% for father).
But it’s not only a parent’s attachment style that corresponds to their child's attachment style: Their parenting style does, too. When given a choice of parenting style and definitions to describe their primary caregiver's parenting style, about half (49%) of securely attached Americans say their primary caregiver had a balanced parenting style, meaning they were caring and listened to them, but also set clear rules. One-quarter (25%) of Americans say their caregivers were strict — meaning they were firm in their discipline and expected them to follow rules without questioning them. People who had strict caregivers when growing up are slightly more likely to have an avoidant or disorganized attachment style than a secure attachment style.
While attachment styles can affect many areas of life, they are particularly relevant in the context of romantic relationships. Three in five Americans (62%) say they are currently in a romantic relationship, which makes understanding attachment styles and their influence all the more important. The share of Americans in romantic relationships is smaller for Americans who have a disorganized attachment style (48%) than it is for those with secure, anxious, and avoidant attachment styles (71%, 67%, and 62%, respectively).
Among Americans who are currently in relationships, most with a secure attachment style also say their partners are securely attached (58%). A mere 2% of those with a secure attachment style say their partners have an anxious attachment style, 3% say their partners have a disorganized attachment style, and 5% say their partners have an avoidant attachment style.
Aside from its important link to romantic relationships, attachment style is also related to some other everyday experiences. Americans with an anxious attachment (40%) and those with a disorganized attachment (42%) are more likely to say they often or always feel like they lack companionship than are those with a secure (12%) or avoidant attachment (23%). And anxiously attached Americans (11%) are also the most likely of the four attachment styles to say they use social media for more than six hours per day.
— Taylor Orth and Carl Bialik contributed to this article.
Related: What are Americans’ love languages?
Methodology: This poll was conducted online on May 5 - 8, 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%.
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