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Yet for former Labor campaign strategist Kosmos Samaras, social conservatism has less to do with being a parent and more to do with the company you keep.

“It’s called political social contagion – if a group of people, for instance, live in a particular community that is progressive, they are likely to be progressive too,” he says. “We find that community has a more profound influence over individuals, irrespective of whether they’re having kids or not.”

Wealth, too, is a strong predictor, with richer parents tending to stay progressive no matter how many children they have.

“The less capacity parents have to deal with cost living pressures and take care of their kids, the more conservative they become, and less tolerant and engaging on social issues,” Samaras says.

Life becomes more complicated and expensive when you have children, and Samaras says parents – especially parents of younger kids – tend to be motivated by economic issues such as access to childcare and the health system over others.

“We find that it’s more economically practical things that change people’s mindsets rather than their social outlook on life,” he says.

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Interestingly, Kerry’s research did not find this to be the case when it comes to parents.

“Parenthood didn’t make people more conservative on these [economic] issues – indeed, there is some evidence from other studies that parents can become more liberal on some economic issues, to the extent that these policies favour parents.”

The research has political implications, especially in light of falling birth rates across nearly all the developed world (and even much of the developing world). While globally it’s been predicted the planet will host 9.8 billion people by 2050, many countries – including Australia – are dealing with decades of sub-replacement fertility, which means a total fertility rate below the 2.1 required for a woman to replace herself and her partner.

Kerry believes that more research needs to be done into the process of becoming a parent and the changes that come about as a result.

“Parenthood is the biggest thing that happens to most people in a reliable way, but historically, most research in psychology has tended to focus on young people and childhood development,” he says.

“People have overlooked the other end of parenthood.”

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