Americans prioritize the most serious issues facing modern American families differently. Trump voters tend to believe that the most acute problems facing the American family are cultural — for Clinton voters, they're economic. While the priorities may differ, the majority of Americans agree that both are factors in supporting healthy and thriving families, something America desperately needs.
The third annual American Family Survey, a nationwide study sponsored by the Deseret News and The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, and conducted by YouGov, generated a helpful cache of data on the state of American families. A rising percentage of citizens feel that the biggest challenges facing families are related to economics. In just the past two years, according to the survey, the number of people who say economic issues are the top problem facing families rose from 51 percent to 62 percent. Meanwhile, there’s been a 17-point slide in the percentage of survey participants who say the issues are mainly cultural, a category that refers to drug use, sexual permissiveness, crime and safety, as well as the decline in religious faith and church attendance. Trump voters are more disposed to the latter position.
The reality is culture can influence economics and vice versa. Whatever one prioritizes, it’s vital for communities and leaders to do their best to advance both. The debate between whether economics or culture brings about greater overall stability and flourishing is not new. Karl Marx emphasized economics; Max Weber, on the other hand, saw culture playing a larger role. It’s little wonder that economists have traditionally sided with, well, economics. But, increasingly, in the field of behavioral economics — and the subfield of cultural economics — there’s evidence that social norms, traditions, religious beliefs, understandings of justice and levels of trust can shape economic outcomes.
“The ‘second strand’ of behavioral economics moves beyond the idea of a person who is influenced unconsciously by the context of the moment of decision,” says Karla Hoff, a lead economist at the World Bank's Development Research Group, in a recent World Bank policy discussion. “We all jump to narratives, and culture shapes them. They influence how we interpret actions, how we think, and how we behave.” There are also correlates in how economics will shape behavior and, likely, by extension, culture.
The pillars of culture and economics are inextricably connected with the institution of the family. Society is most stable when it bolsters and supports all three; if one of the three is wounded, the other two suffer. Ideally, then, local and national policies and practices should be crafted to support the entire triad. Lawmakers and community leaders can begin by understanding how these lodestars of the republic interact and appreciating the way each helps bring about the nation’s long-term flourishing.
“The family,” Margaret Thatcher said, “is the building block of society. It is a nursery, a school, a hospital, a leisure place, a place of refuge and a place of rest. It encompasses the whole of society. It fashions our beliefs. It is the preparation for the rest of our life.” It is, in the words of Edmund Burke, “the little platoons” of society and “the germ of public affections.” America must never overlook how the economy and culture affect the family and how the family, in turn, supports them both.