skip to main content
Family Values Differ Sharply Around The World

Family Values Differ Sharply Around The World


PRINCETON, N.J. - According to a survey conducted this year by the Gallup Organization in sixteen countries on four continents, the world is a long way from sharing a global set of family values. The survey reveals wide variation in perceptions of the ideal number of children for a family to have, in people's preferences for having boy versus girl children, and in the degree to which people consider having children to be an important part of their lives.

The issue generating the most diverse reactions in this new international Gallup survey, however, is the morality of unmarried couples having children. This was the defining issue in the family values debate in the United States in 1992 when Dan Quayle attacked the TV sitcom character Murphy Brown, saying that she was glorifying single motherhood.

In some countries, particularly in Western Europe, having a child out of wedlock is widely condoned; in others, particularly in Asia, it is widely frowned upon. The United States stands out as the country most morally conflicted over the issue, with 47% of Americans saying it is wrong and 50% saying it is not wrong.

How Many Children is Ideal?
The recent Gallup International Poll also records a wide range of opinions about the ideal number of children, with substantial majorities of adults in some countries favoring large families (defined as three or more children), and substantial majorities in others preferring small families.

The United States appears more traditional in its response to this question than most of the other highly developed countries surveyed. Americans favor small families by only a slim 50% to 41% margin. By comparison, 77% of those polled in Germany favor small families, 67% in England and 61% in Canada. The French views on family size are quite similar to the Americans.

Boys Generally Preferred
When asked to say which gender they would prefer if they could have just one child, Gallup finds a moderate preference around the world for boys. Many adults say gender would not matter, but among those who make a choice, boys are generally preferred over girls.

This preference for a male child is particularly strong in Thailand and India, where boys are favored over girls by double-digit margins and where the percentage of people saying they have no preference is quite low. In the U.S. 42% of those surveyed have no preference, but among those who do, boys are favored by a 12 point margin, 35% to 23%.

Children Are Important
A majority of adults in almost all of the countries included in the survey -- Germany and the U.S. being the exceptions -- say that having a child is necessary to their feeling personally fulfilled in life.

This sentiment is much more widespread in some countries, however, than in others. About nine out of ten adults in Hungary, India and Taiwan agree with the statement that having children is necessary for fulfillment. The number is closer to six in ten in Europe, Mexico and Canada. In Germany and the United States Gallup found less than a majority of adults feel having children is necessary for their personal fulfillment.

No Gender Gap on Family Values
While family values concerning children tend to differ from country to country, Gallup finds that men and women within each country generally subscribe to the same values on three of the four questions. On a country by country basis, men and women have similar attitudes about out-of-wedlock births and the ideal family size. They also attach similar levels of importance to having children.

On the other hand, gender preference is the one question asked in the International Gallup Poll where men and women clearly differ. Men around the world, but particularly in the U.S. and in several less well-developed countries, show a solid preference for boys. Women, on the other hand, tend to have either no clear gender preference for children, or only a slight preference for boys.

There is more variation within countries by age groups than there is by gender, but even these differences are small compared with those across nations. One age difference of particular note can be found in the U.S., where a majority of respondents aged 55 and older say it is morally wrong for an unmarried couple to have a baby, while a majority of young adults say it is not.

U.S. More Traditional than Europe
Adults in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, Great Britain and Spain, emerge as the most liberal, or non-traditional, in their outlook toward children when their opinions on the four major family values issues are looked at collectively. At the conservative end of the spectrum are the Asian nations of Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and India. Americans fall squarely in the middle, expressing a mixture of traditional and non-traditional attitudes.

Adults in the remaining seven countries surveyed give a mix of traditional and non-traditional responses to the family values questions posed by Gallup. In addition to the U.S., this middle group includes France, Iceland, Mexico, Hungary, Colombia, Lithuania and Canada.

This International Gallup Poll on Children was conducted in sixteen countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and Latin America, between February and May of 1997. The countries selected for inclusion were those in which The Gallup Organization currently operates a wholly-owned subsidiary and/or joint venture company, and where ongoing nation-wide public opinion surveys (as opposed to market research polling) were in place at the time of the study. These are Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, India, Lithuania, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.

Surveys in most of the countries are nationally representative, with the exceptions of India, Colombia and Mexico where interviews were restricted to urban areas.

Results from each country are based on samplings of the adult population, typically 1000 or more interviews with those aged 18 and older, and the data for each country have an associated sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. More information about the study is available upon request.

Do you think it is, or is not, morally wrong for a couple to have a baby if they are not married?

  Wrong Not Wrong
India 84% 14
Singapore 69% 11
Taiwan 55% 26
United States 47% 50
Guatemala 38% 56
Thailand 37% 57
Mexico 31% 67
Canada 25% 72
Great Britain 25% 73
Spain 21% 73
Lithuania 16% 75
Hungary 16% 81
Colombia 10% 87
Germany 9% 90
France 8% 91
Iceland 3% 95
Note: "No opinion" omitted.
What do you think is the ideal number of children for a family to have?
  0 - 2 3 or more
Iceland 26% 69
Guatemala 35% 61
Taiwan 41% 52
United States 50% 41
France 51% 49
Singapore 53% 47
Mexico 56% 42
Canada 61% 33
Lithuania 63% 33
Great Britain 67% 24
Thailand 69% 30
Hungary 73% 24
Colombia 77% 23
Germany 77% 17
Spain 77% 18
India 87% 12
Note: "No opinion" omitted.
Suppose you could only have one child. Would you prefer that it be a boy or a girl?
  Boy Girl No opinion
Taiwan 29% 9 62
Thailand 44% 27 29
Hungary 25% 12 63
India 40% 27 33
United States 35% 23 42
Guatemala 23% 13 64
Canada 26% 16 58
France 41% 31 28
Singapore 19% 11 70
Colombia 35% 27 38
Mexico 31% 24 45
Great Britain 31% 26 43
Germany 21% 19 60
Lithuania 33% 34 33
Iceland 12% 16 72
Spain 20% 27 53
Note: "No opinion" omitted.
For you personally, do you think it is necessary or not necessary to have a child at some point in your life in order to feel fulfilled?
  Yes No
Hungary 94% 6
India 93% 6
Taiwan 87% 3
Iceland 85% 13
Thailand 85% 13
Lithuania 82% 10
Singapore 81% 7
Guatemala 74% 23
France 73% 26
Colombia 72% 26
Mexico 61% 38
Spain 60% 35
Canada 59% 37
Great Britain 57% 41
Germany 49% 45
United States 46% 51
Note: "No opinion" omitted.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030