Contemporary cartoons reveals a lot about people's attitudes towards parenting, say researchers Jaclyn Tabor and Jessica Calarco who used cartoons in the New Yorker magazine to track changes in parenting during the 20th and early 21st centuries.
"We find that portrayals of children and child-rearing are both more varied and more fluctuating than existing research would suggest," said Tabor from Indiana University.
"Contemporary cartoons celebrate children but also recognize the significant challenges children create for parents. Cartoons from the 1920s and 1930s -- when rates of childlessness were also high -- reveal a similar set of mixed attitudes," Tabor added.
In recent decades, parenting seems to have become an increasingly all-consuming project, particularly in affluent and highly educated families, researchers said.
Yet, those same decades have also seen a dramatic increase in the number of adults -- and especially affluent and highly educated adults -- who are choosing to forgo parenthood entirely.
Their paper investigates that paradox of modern, privileged parenting, using a content analysis of New Yorker cartoons from 1925 to 2006 to examine portrayals of children and child-rearing.
In light of the findings, Tabor and Calarco argue that when child-rearing poses particularly high costs to parents, and when those costs are widely recognized, reluctance about parenting can easily lead to opting out.
They discuss the implications of these patterns for research on children and childhood, research on popular parenting patterns and research on changing demographic trends.
The study was presented at the 110th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association held in Chicago.