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Survey Shows Parents Are More Hesitant to Get Vaccines for Their Kids

Young mothers are largely driving the resistance among parents

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This is consistent with general gender patterns in cases of risk and uncertainty. It makes clear there is a need to understand the concerns that drive the hesitancy and try to alleviate them.”

James Druckman
IPR political scientist

 A mother vaccinates her child

While coronavirus vaccines are yet to be approved for children, public health officials worry that the increasing numbers of parents skeptical of vaccinating their children for any disease could affect overall vaccination rates for the coronavirus. A new survey aims to understand how prevalent this attitude is among parents compared to adults without children. 

Between February 5 and March 1, researchers from Northwestern, Harvard, Northeastern, and RutgersUniversities surveyed more than 19,700 individuals to determine whether parents are more skeptical of coronavirus vaccines than other adults.

The survey results show parents are more hesitant about getting the coronavirus vaccine for themselves and their children than those without children across different socioeconomic and demographic groups, with young mothers driving the gap. Mothers between the ages of 18 and 35 are a third less likely to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available and nearly a third more likely to refuse it altogether. Mothers are also more skeptical of vaccines than fathers: 27% of mothers say they are extremely unlikely to vaccinate their children versus 14% of fathers.

“This is consistent with general gender patterns in cases of risk and uncertainty,” said IPR political scientist James Druckman, who is part of the survey tracking Americans’ attitudes about COVID-19. “It makes clear there is a need to understand the concerns that drive the hesitancy and try to alleviate them.”

 Survey of parents and vaccine attitudes

Regardless of gender, parents' attitudes toward their getting vaccinated closely tracks with their attitudes toward vaccinating their children. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of parents gave the same response when asked how likely they were to vaccinate themselves and how likely they were to vaccinate their children: 11% expressed a greater willingness to vaccinate their children and 15% expressed a greater willingness to vaccinate themselves.

In a previous report, the researchers find education and income influence support for vaccines. Parents with less education and lower incomes are also more vaccine hesitant and resistant than other adults. Among parents without a 4-year college degree, nearly three-quarters (72%) are hesitant or resistant, compared to roughly half (55%) of adults who did not have 4-year college degree without children.

For adults with a 4-year college degree, the gap between parents and childless adults nearly disappears. Parents and non-parents earning less than $75,000 per year have the largest gap—10 percentage points—in vaccine acceptance. Higher earning parents showed no significant difference in vaccine hesitancy versus adults without children.

Across all racial groups, parents are more likely to resist the vaccine versus other adults, and Asian Americans are most likely to embrace the vaccine of any group. Black Americans remain the most hesitant racial group, with nearly three-quarters of Black parents (73%) being vaccine hesitant or resistant compared to 57% of Black adults without children.

Other key findings:

  • Younger mothers aged 18–35 (32%) are significantly less willing to vaccinate their children than older mothers (23%).
  • A child’s age does not seem to play a role in parents’ vaccine hesitancy: Parents of younger (up to 12 years old) and older children (13–17 years old) show about the same level of reluctancy, around 20%, when it comes to vaccinating their children.
  • While vaccine acceptance varies by political party, the differences between parents and those without kids are roughly the same. Democratic parents are 11 percentage points more likely to be hesitant or resistant than Democrats without children (48% vs. 37%). This gap differs only slightly among Independents (12 percentage points) and Republicans (13 percentage points).
  • Gaps between parents and childless adults are similar across regions of the U.S., with some larger hesitancy gaps in New England (27% for non-parents vs. 39% for parents), the Midwest (28% vs. 37%), and the West Coast (30% vs. 39%). 

Read the complete report here.

James Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Associate Director. Previous surveys can be found here.  

Photo credit: iStock; D. Zigic

Published: March 22, 2021.