SALT LAKE CITY — From cheating to religion to technology, researchers in 2018 conducted surveys and crunched numbers on a variety of topics affecting the American family.
Here's a sampling of 10 things we learned:
1. Family roles are more important to Americans than politics, religion and other ways they define themselves.
The American Family Survey, a nationally representative annual poll from the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, found being a parent or spouse/partner were the identities that meant the most to those who experienced them. Around 70 percent called these roles "very" or "extremely" important to their personal identity. That's far more than said the same of religion (43 percent), career (37 percent), community (30 percent), race (29 percent) or political party (28 percent).
2. Technology, bullying and mental health top the list of concerns parents have about their teens, according to the same American Family Survey.
More than half of parents listed overuse of technology as a top-three concern, while 45 percent listed bullying. Poor mental health edged out family breakdown/divorce and drugs and alcohol, while other concerns lagged far behind, including school quality, sexual activity and relationships, among others.
3. Teens who pray and attend religious services get a "well-being boost" that may last into adulthood.
The finding comes from a Harvard study that notes while studies show going to a worship service has a positive effect on health for both adults and youths, the youths see as much or even more benefit from meditation and prayer. The positive effects include greater life satisfaction, certain character strengths, and lower probabilities of marijuana use and early sexual activity.
One of the study authors, Harvard research scientist Ying Chen, told the Deseret News the reason prayer and meditation have such a strong impact among youths might be that church attendance can be prompted by parents, but teens have the say in whether they pray or meditate.
4. When it comes to infidelity, men cheat more overall, but that gap may be closing in younger generations.
An analysis by Wendy Wang, director of research for the Institute for Family Studies, found that men are typically more apt to cheat than women, as are those who grew up in families without both mom and dad at home compared to intact families, and those who don't often attend religious services compared to those who attend regularly. The numbers count only adults who are or have been married.
Breaking it down by age, Wang found little difference between men and women around age 18 — 10 percent of men and 11 percent of women had cheated. She found a bigger gap around the mid-40s, with more men having cheated, and the gap continues to widen at older ages.
As a side note, University of Utah professor Nicholas Wolfinger has written that Americans born in the 1940s and '50s had the highest rate of extramarital sex. He posits it could be that they grew into adulthood during the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Wang found women born in the 1940s and '50s were somewhat more likely than other women to be unfaithful to their spouse, while for men, those born in the 1930s and '40s were unfaithful at the highest rates.
She told the Deseret News that religious attendance, party affiliation and family background are "still significant factors for cheating" by women, while race, age and education are not relevant. A lower rate of religious attendance was the only factor that consistently predicted cheating for both men and women.
5. Family size is shrinking, but a growing share of parents say three or four kids is ideal.
That means the "middle child" may make a comeback, according to Pew Research Center. The center says new data shows 41 percent of American adults "think families of three or more children are ideal, a share rivaling that of around two decades ago, according to a recent Gallup survey."
Still, it is more common for American women to end their childbearing years with one or two children, compared to three or more, Pew found when it looked at recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
6. The role of marriage in America appears to be shrinking, though even those who haven't married say they desire it.
And age is driving two entirely different stories, according to Wang, who wrote a brief on the topic.
"I charted the trend of young and old and, for people younger than 65, marriage is going down every year," she told the Deseret News. "... I think overall, with older people passing, the marriage rate will very likely drop below 50 percent. It's barely hanging in there."
More people are foregoing marriage entirely, she said. And those who marry are increasingly doing so at an older age.
Marriage is still a goal, though, desired even by many who haven't married yet, according to Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families and a history professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She wrote a piece for The New York Times tracking the decline in how many years people are married — driven at least in part by the delay in marrying.
7. Men are doing more around the house and welcoming more equality.
Two studies from the Council on Contemporary Families said male support for equality at work, in the political arena and at home has reached a high point, based on General Social Survey data going back to the late 1970s. Men aren't as egalitarian as women, but the difference is shrinking.
One of the studies, out of Union College, suggests baby boomers, Generation X and millennials are all increasingly egalitarian. The other, from the University of Utah, shows men are putting that into practice, stepping up the share of household chores they do, though women still do more than half, despite most of them working outside the home. The study found women do most of the cleaning and laundry, while men share shopping at least some of the time and help with laundry and cleaning more often than in the past.
"These studies suggest that although history does not move in a straight line, acceptance of gender equality continues to spread and deepen," Coontz, council director of research and education, told the Deseret News.
8. Americans trust government and corporations less, but strangers more than in the past.
This finding makes the list because so much of what families do and how people live depends on trust and interaction, from how we get around to where we spend our family vacation. And like religious faith, faith in government and institutions can be passed down from parent to child.
Thanks to technology making things easier, we "get into cars with perfect strangers, sleep on their couches, and entrust our young children to them," noted a Deseret News article.
But the Edelman Trust Barometer found a big drop in Americans' level of trust of government and business. And Pew Research Center's most recent polling on trust said fewer than 1 in 5 Americans believe government consistently does right. Back 60 years ago, 3 in 4 believed government would do the right thing.
9. Among parents with minor children at home, 1 in 8 also care for an adult.
Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Pew Research Center found that 29 percent of U.S. adults have children under age 18 at home, and of those, 12 percent are "multigenerational" caregivers, providing on average 2.5 hours of unpaid care each day to a relative, friend or neighbor. That care can range from helping with activities of daily living to providing transportation or help maintaining the home or finances, among other things.
American adults are also spending more time, on average, doing child care tasks. The Pew Research Center says moms spend 40 percent more time with their kids than they did in the mid-'60s, while dads' time with the kids in that time period has tripled.
Multigenerational caregivers, the analysis adds, are getting less sleep than they used to. The report lists how many minutes multigenerational caregivers spend on tasks daily compared to others: 67 minutes more on adult care, 2 minutes less on child care, 14 minutes more on housework and errands, 86 minutes less on paid work, 14 minutes more on leisure and personal activities and 21 minutes less on sleep.
10. Don't check your work email late at night if you want a happy spouse.2 comments on this story
Research from Virginia Tech found that employees who were expected to be available at all hours by email had heightened anxiety and suffered a negative impact on their health. But it wasn't just their problem. The ill effects extended to family members, especially spouses.
Study lead author William Becker told the Deseret News that some of the expectations driving always-on availability may not even be a company's policy, but rather the employee's interpretation, so companies need to be clear about what they expect of their employees. It might be a good idea, even, to assign employees different days of the week to stay in touch after-hours. “If something really happened, and they needed everyone on deck, that would be an exception,” he said.