American families have clear preferences for balancing work and childcare and for receiving government support.

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More from This Survey
Foreword: One Generation Away
Home Building Survey Part I: State of the American Family
Home Building Survey Part II: Supporting Families
Why Bother With Family?
Our Conjugal Class Divide

Key Findings

  • American attitudes about family structure vary widely, but most families see a full-time earner and a stay-at-home parent as the ideal arrangement for raising young children.
    • 53% of married mothers prefer to have one full-time earner and one stay-at-home parent while raising children under the age of five.
    • A full-time, stay-at-home parent is the most popular arrangement across lower-, working-, and middle-class respondents.
  • Parenting-age Americans prefer direct cash assistance to other forms of family policy, but paid family leave and childcare remain popular among women without children and upper-class adults.
    • Among people who support greater government assistance overall, 32% choose direct cash assistance as their preferred policy and 17% choose a wage subsidy, as compared to 19% and 20% for paid leave and subsidized childcare, respectively.
    • Support for cash assistance is likewise a much stronger first choice among lower- and working-class families (34% and 20%, respectively), whereas paid leave and subsidized childcare are preferred by their middle- and upper-class counterparts.
  • As a form of direct cash assistance, parenting-age Americans prefer monthly payments to an end-of-year tax credit.
    • 60% of parenting-age Americans prefer monthly checks to an income tax credit.
    • Respondents favoring cash assistance, in particular, prefer monthly payments by a five-to-one margin.

Family Work Preferences

American families adopt many approaches to balancing parents’ work and home life, earning income and raising children. But one arrangement stands out for households raising young children: one full-time worker and one stay-at-home parent. This is the most popular choice among both single adults and parents and especially among married mothers, who choose it by an absolute majority.

While these attitudes are widely shared across family structures, they differ by socioeconomic status. Whereas lower-, working-, and middle-class adults are most likely to choose a full-time worker and a stay-at-home parent as their ideal, upper-class adults prefer both parents to work full-time and to rely on paid childcare.

Government Support

As noted in Part I of this report, Americans across classes and among both parents and childless adults are generally enthusiastic about government increasing its support for families.

That consensus is less clear when viewed through an ideological lens. Self-identified conservatives are less likely than liberals and moderates to favor greater government support for families, mainly because they do not see such support as the federal government’s role. Still, a plurality do say government should do more, in particular expressing concern that families are falling behind. Liberals, by contrast, are relatively more likely to emphasize that support would improve the lives of children.

The preferences of parenting-age Americans vary widely when it comes to the best kind of government support. While a narrow plurality—a little over a quarter of respondents—prefer a regular direct payment, respondents were split between cash and in-kind benefits: 43% selected direct cash assistance or a wage subsidy, and 43% selected paid family leave or subsidized child care. The idea of a “baby bond” is least popular overall and within most segments of the population.

Preferences vary between men and women, parents and childless adults. Fathers and mothers have a clear preference for direct cash assistance—as do childless men. But childless women favor in-kind benefits: a plurality rank paid family leave as their preferred policy, followed by subsidized childcare.

Preferences among policies also appear influenced by attitudes about the role of government overall. Those who agree that government should increase support for families prefer direct cash assistance, whereas those who do not favor greater assistance prefer paid family leave to other potential policies if asked to make a choice. Direct cash assistance is the least popular policy among opponents of increasing government support.

A similar difference in attitudes appears across classes. The lower- and working-class preference for cash payments and the middle- and upper-class preference for paid family leave are almost mirror images of each other.

Preferred Mechanism

One issue brought into focus by recent proposals for a more generous Child Tax Credit or “child allowance” is the disbursement of payments monthly versus at year’s end. Here, parenting-age Americans largely agree: monthly payments are better.

The preference for monthly checks persists across class, though regular payments are most popular among lower-class Americans most likely to rely on the support.

Perhaps most strikingly, while the views of people preferring other policies are mixed on how best to deliver a cash payment if one exists, those most enthusiastic about cash assistance prefer monthly payments by a five-to-one margin.


The American Compass Home Building Survey was conducted by YouGov between January 21 and January 28, 2021, with a representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18–50 living in the United States, including 1,174 respondents who reported being a parent or guardian. YouGov interviewed 2,214 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 2,000 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race, and education. The frame was constructed by stratified sampling from the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year sample subset on those aged 18–50, with selection within strata by weighted sampling with replacements (using the person weights on the public use file).

Respondents were instructed: The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary financial, logistical, and emotional constraints on families and forced many to rearrange their lives. In answering these questions, please think how your life would be with no pandemic—for instance, how it was before the pandemic struck or how you expect it to be once the pandemic has ended.

“Class” is defined by education and income:

  • “Lower” (N=553): less than a 4-yr degree and household income below $30K
  • “Working” (N=385): less than a 4-yr degree and household income $30K–$70K
  • “Middle” (N=652): 4-yr degree or more and household income $30K–$70K; or household income $70K–$150K
  • “Upper” (N=110): household income above $150K

Respondents who did not report household income and those with a 4-yr degree or more but household income below $30K are excluded from analyses using the “Class” variable.

The policies listed in the “Family Policy Preferences” charts and accompanying commentary are shorthand for the options given to respondents:

  • Direct cash assistance = “Direct cash assistance: The government could send money to families for each child living in the household.”
  • Wage subsidy = “Wage boost: The government could add to the earnings of low-wage workers with children under 18; like the taxes it usually takes out but in reverse.”
  • Subsidized childcare = “Free or discounted childcare: The government could operate daycare centers or help pay the cost of childcare.”
  • Baby bonds = “‘Baby bonds’ for children: The government could create savings accounts for children and put money in each year, with the child receiving the total amount upon reaching adulthood.”
  • Paid family leave = “Paid family leave: The government could require that employers provide at least three months of paid leave to new mothers and fathers.”
More from This Survey
Foreword: One Generation Away

Preserving our national inheritance requires public policy to get the family right.

Home Building Survey Part I: State of the American Family

Across all classes and regardless of parental status, 60 to 75% of Americans say that the government should do more to support families.

Home Building Survey Part II: Supporting Families

American attitudes about family structure vary widely, but most families see a full-time earner and a stay-at-home parent as the ideal arrangement for raising young children.