How Much Parents Worry About Their Kids Is Widely Split According to Income

December 17, 2015, 4:16 PM UTC
Mother and daughter (2-4) crossing street, holding hands, rear view
Photograph by Thomas Northcut—Getty Images

A parent’s income can say a lot about what kind of parent they are.

Parents in America with lower annual incomes worry more about their children’s well-being, especially in regards to potential physical danger, than wealthier parents, according to a new study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

Lower-income-bracket parents are far more likely to worry about their children’s safety in their own neighborhoods. One-third of parents with an annual income below $30,000 reported that their neighborhood was “fair” or “poor,” while only 42% said their neighborhood was an “excellent” place to raise kids. But among parents with annual incomes above $75,000, the percentage reporting excellent marks for their neighborhoods rose almost twice that, to 78%.

The worries that lower-income parents express about their children’s physical safety diverge from those with higher incomes. Almost half of parents making below $30,000 said they were worried their kids could eventually get shot; that was a concern for barely more than a fifth of parents in the wealthier bracket. Poorer parents also worried more about their children being attacked or beaten up, getting in trouble with the law, getting kidnapped, or experiencing teenage pregnancy.

Income also influenced the way parents treat their children’s education. Higher-income parents were three times more likely to say that it’s possible for a parent to be too involved in his or her child’s education. But almost three-quarters of parents who bring home $30,000 or less annually said that a parent can never be too involved; only 40% of parents in the highest income bracket agreed.

Parents across income brackets do agree on a few things: They worry almost equally about bullying, drug use, and mental illness. 55% of parents in both the $75,000+ and less than $30,000 income categories said they were worried about their children struggling with depression and anxiety. And despite their disagreements over how much helicopter parenting is appropriate, an equal amount of low-income and high-income parents participated in PTA events, helped with class trips or projects, and met with teachers.

Despite their concerns, all parents are likely to say that they think they’re great parents. Slightly less than half of parents in every income bracket surveyed said that they were doing a “very good” job; similar shares said they were doing a “good” job. The parents most likely to pat themselves on the back were millennials, who are between 18-34 years old. 57% of millennial moms and 43% of millennial dads called themselves “good” parents—placing six and four points, respectively, above average evaluations across generations. That difference could be explained by the fact that most millennial parents only have young children, and parents of young children are more likely to think highly of their parenting than those with teenagers, Pew found.

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