Family Life in a Pandemic

Findings presented by deseret.com/AFS

How has a devastating pandemic, social unrest, and political turmoil affected American families? Though most might assume family life has become more stressful, strained, and shaky in recent months, the 2020 American Family Survey results showed despite “pockets of trouble” in family life, there is still strong evidence of “resilience in the face of adversity”. Despite societal tumult, the state of the American family seems to be better than we might have expected.

Principal Investigators Christopher F. Karpowitz & Jeremy C. Pope and Co-Directors of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU, designed the 2020 American Family Survey, an annual nationwide poll with 3,000 respondents, to test how families are faring under unprecedented conditions.

The survey was administered between July 3-14, at the height of racial, social, and political unrest, and these are five of the most interesting findings as identified by the Deseret News.

Finding #1: The pandemic is making families stronger.

56% of respondents say the pandemic helped them appreciate their partner and 43% evaluated their own marriages as getting stronger. Nearly a majority, 47% of respondents agreed with the statement that, “the pandemic has deepened my commitment to my relationship.” During the 2020 American Family Survey webcast from the Brookings Institution, Principal Investigator Karpowitz concluded, “We do see resilience in relationships.” In a time of worldly upheaval, some think couples would struggle, but surprisingly 62% of respondents disagreed that the pandemic had made them question the strength of their relationship.

Finding #2: Since the pandemic started, men are more likely to say they struggle balancing work and home life.

With many men and women now working from home, work and home life is all managed under the same roof. 40% of men versus 31% of women say the balance is a struggle.

Finding #3: The role of a parent has become more important

80% of parents say their role as a parent is important to their identity, up from 71% in 2018. Karpowitz said, “We are living in a unique moment, a moment that is priming those identities, a politicized moment. But it’s also a moment where people are especially cognizant of their family relationships.” Panelist and Senior Fellow of Economic and Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution Camille Busette discussed how parenting has increased in importance for respondents, and how greater percentages of Blacks, Latinos and Whites reported that their role as parents is important to their identity than in previous years. Busette discussed how this increase could be attributed to the fact that many parents took on the additional role as educators and invested personally in their children’s education during the pandemic.

Finding #4: Men think they’re carrying their weight around the house.

With many men and women staying home, men say they’re dividing tasks 50-50, but women disagree. Women say it’s more like 65-35.

Finding #5: More extended families are moving in together.

There was a significant increase in percent of families living with extended family. 25% of respondents live with extended family, up from 20% last year.

These findings show the resilient nature of American families, but there is also a relationship between respondents who reported lost income and increased stress in marriage. 24% of those who reported no lost income during the pandemic also reported an increase of stress in marriage as compared to 34% of those who reported lost income of a spouse or partner. Dr. Pope discussed the negative effects of the pandemic on the family: “This highlights that most people are resilient but there are pockets of people who are experiencing trouble and it’s worth us paying attention to.”

Panelist and Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings Institution Richard Reeves shared his thoughts about the importance of relationships within American families during the pandemic, “The survey shows the need for, and a hunger for a good relational quality of life…I do think that the things that people associate with marriage and family are being more valued, [and] that’s true with extended families coming together [and] people having to spend more time with their children.”

Busette proposed future implications of the survey results, “The picture that’s clear here is that families are very resilient, particularly during COVID. And I think the fact that they have been so focused on their families means that there is an interesting foundation upon which to pursue pro-family policies in the next few years.”

Reeves concluded that the survey shows that “if there’s a piece of hope, maybe it’s that we have a broader recognition of how much our relationships matter.”

Topline reports and data sets are available for download from BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

Watch the Brookings Institution presentation of the results and expert panel.

See more findings at deseret.com/AFS.