Monday, February 01, 2021

What's the Most Important Thing Children Should Learn?

What is the single most important thing children should learn to prepare them for life? The largest share of Americans (42 percent) say it is most important for children to learn to think for themselves, according to the General Social Survey (GSS). Hard work ranks second, helping others is third, obedience fourth, and popularity fifth.   

Percent who say each characteristic is the most important thing children should learn, 2018 (and 1986)
Think for self: 41.6% (51.2%)
Work hard: 27.6% (11.2%)
Help others: 20.7% (13.7%)
Obedience: 9.9% (23.4%)
Popularity: 0.2% (0.5%)

Obedience has fallen in importance over the decades, as discussed in this recent post (How Many Americans Are Receptive to Fascism?) But so has thinking for oneself. More than half the public named thinking for oneself as the most important thing children should learn when the GSS first asked this question in 1986. Over the past three decades, the percentage who rate thinking for oneself as number-one has fallen by nearly 10 percentage points. Working hard and helping others have taken up the slack. The percentage who think the most important thing for children to learn is to work hard has grown by 16 percentage points since 1986, and helping others has gained 7 percentage points. The one thing that hasn't changed over the decades is the low rating for popularity. Fewer than 1 percent believe popularity is the number-one lesson children need to learn.

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the General Social Survey

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