The story of America right now is a story of division. We are separated, so the polls and pundits tell us daily, by politics, gender, race, religion, class, geography… The division story is important, and true. But it is not the whole truth. There are stories of unity, too, which are worth focusing on at this time of year.
Take family life. There are many differences in family structure and stability. But when it comes to what families actually do, there is far more that unites than divides us. That is a consistent finding of the American Family Survey* (the 2018 edition was launched here at Brookings in November).
There are Republicans and Democrats: but there are not Republican and Democrat families, at least in terms of activities. The political orientation of parents does not, for example, change the likelihood of eating dinner or going out together:
Eight in ten families report eating dinner together weekly or more (and half on a daily basis), and seven in ten participate in activities such as watching a movie or playing games together. (Note that families here are defined as people who are married, cohabiting, or have children).
The only activity where there is a difference by political leaning is worshipping together as a family: not surprising, given the much higher levels of religiosity among Republicans. And the vast majority of parents (85%) describe raising children as “one of life’s greatest joys.” They even, according to a separate survey for NPR, agree in equal numbers that Lego bricks still make an excellent gift (a finding that pleased one of us especially).
There is some more good news from the survey in terms of unity in place of division: most people identify more strongly with their roles as a parent or spouse than in terms of their political beliefs. Especially among people with children and married couples, the most important identities are those of parent and spouse. Other identities such as career, race, and political party are less important:
The survey sounds some warning notes, too. Even as the economy recovers, more people are worried about the economic threats to family life. (We’ll be highlighting this in the next edition of our Class Notes newsletter, which you can sign up for here.)
So, for all our differences, it seems that Americans are pretty united in love and appreciation for family life. Something to toast around the table, perhaps.
*Richard Reeves is an advisor to the Survey