U.S. Parents Remain Optimistic About Raising Children While Navigating Barriers to Opportunity, Survey Finds

A nationwide study of parents and caregivers from diverse backgrounds finds many commonalities.

    • March 18, 2021

Princeton, N.J.—Parents and caregivers in the United States draw from reserves of creativity and strength in raising children today, while remaining clear-eyed about long-standing barriers to opportunity they and their families face. Parents from across racial and ethnic groups are optimistic for their children’s future but are concerned about factors, including systemic racism, that limit the opportunities their children may have. The findings come from an unprecedented survey of parents and caregivers in the United States released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

The new survey, “Raising the Next Generation: Research with Parents and Caregivers” examines what it is like to raise children in America today. The survey asked questions to equal numbers of parents and caregivers from five different racial and ethnic groups: Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black, Indigenous, Latino, and White. Census data show that this generation of young people is more racially and ethnically diverse than any before it. 

The parents surveyed remain largely optimistic about the future of the country for their children, ranging from 64 percent of White parents to 81 percent of Latino parents. But very few, from 9 percent of Black parents to 27 percent of Latino parents, say that all children have the same opportunity to grow up to be independent, financially stable, and healthy adults.  

“Parents and caregivers share common hopes and draw on many strengths to raise their families, but it’s clear that hard work alone is not enough,” said Jennifer Ng’andu, a managing director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The caregivers we listened to have experienced many gaps in the opportunities their children have to thrive. That’s an extraordinary burden to carry, especially in these times.”

The survey was conducted with roughly 2,000 parents and guardians raising children ages 0-17, including about 400 from each of the five racial and ethnic groups mentioned above. For each group of parents, about half had incomes less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($54,300 for a family of three) and the other half had incomes above 250 percent of the federal poverty level. The survey was conducted between October 2020 and December 2020. The survey was fielded by SSRS, a survey research firm based in Philadelphia, both by telephone and online. The design used a hybrid approach. Sixty-three percent of the interviews were conducted using RDD sample via telephone, 5 percent with probability sample via the SSRS Opinion Panel and the remaining 32 percent were conducted online using nonprobability sample. This survey follows the guidelines for AAPOR disclosure.

Despite personal strengths, caregivers see gaps in opportunity.

Parents overwhelmingly feel lucky to be parents and most, from 64 percent of Indigenous parents to 80 percent of Black parents, feel that they are able to provide their children with what they need to be successful in life. But when they look beyond their families, they are concerned. The majority of respondents, from 68 percent of White parents to 94 percent of Black parents, worry that America does not offer the same opportunities to all children, despite their own best efforts to help their child succeed. 

For parents of color, many of these broader concerns are undergirded by worries about racism. Many parents of color, from 49 percent of Latino parents to 73 percent of Black parents, think that racism or discrimination will limit their child’s opportunities to get a quality education, go to college, or get a good job as an adult. This roughly mirrors the percentages of parents of color who say that systemic racism or discrimination has limited their own opportunities in life. For instance, from 59 percent of Indigenous parents to 74 percent of Black parents say that racism has limited their opportunity to get a better paying job or promotion. 

There is near universal agreement among parents and caregivers, from 93 percent to 97 percent, that there should be a strong safety net for families when they fall on hard times. Over 80 percent of respondents from each racial and ethnic group think that government policies such as paid family leave, health care, housing, and tax credits play an important role in helping families raise children. 

“More than meeting families where they are, we need to meet families at their aspirations,” said Ng’andu. “If we, as a country, want all our children to fulfill their potential, we must ensure that parents and caregivers have access to every opportunity for themselves and their children. We need to take down the systemic barriers that limit opportunities and hold our country back.”

The survey findings build on extensive research and focus groups conducted over an 18-month period in 16 cities across the country in six different languages with parents from more than a dozen racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds. By listening to diverse groups of caregivers and surveying equal numbers from five racial and ethnic groups, the research elevates voices that are often marginalized or excluded in similar efforts. The new survey and initial qualitative research were conducted by the nonpartisan research firm PerryUndem and a broad set of partners with culturally specific expertise.

The full survey results explore themes of parents’ optimism for the future, their feelings about parenting, their feelings about their communities, and their experiences with racism and discrimination. It further assesses how some of those factors support or hinder a child’s ability to thrive. Although it was conducted while the country and parents were experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey’s focus was broader than current conditions related to the pandemic.


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 45 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working alongside others to build a national Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937

Learn How We Work Toward

Healthy Children and Families