Household values outweigh politics in US Latino environmental beliefs
For many in the US, human-made climate change is a political tug-of-war between left and right. But for Latinos in this country, the subject is much closer to home.
New research, led by Adam Pearson ’03, Associate Professor of Psychology at Pomona College, and Jonathon Schuldt ’04, Associate Professor of Communication at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Interim Executive Director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, shows that family values are one US Latinos are much stronger predictors of climate opinions and political support than political views.
“Cultural Determinants of Climate Change Attitudes: Familism Predicts Climate Beliefs and Political Support Among US Latinos,” published July 15 in Climatic Change magazine. Rainer Romero-Canyas, senior senior social scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EFD), is a co-author.
“There is a growing body of work showing that Hispanics and Latinos in the US report some of the top environmental concerns – particularly climate change concerns – and support for climate change,” said Schuldt, faculty member, Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. which together with the EDF funded this research through a grant from 2015.
“People were trying to figure out why that could be the case,” said Schuldt. “And so here we were thinking of familism or family values as a potential piece of this puzzle.”
Schuldt admits they haven’t found a definitive answer to why familism – cultural values that represent a commitment to and prioritization of family – should be such a powerful predictor for US Latinos, but their research and previous studies offer some clue .
“When you think about the threat of climate change,” he said, “as you become more attuned to family values, you may be more concerned about climate change and its effects on loved ones and across generations.”
Other studies have shown that compared to whites, Latinos have more contact with extended families, including families living overseas, “some in places where climate change is wreaking havoc,” Schuldt said.
“Feeling connected and connected with your family and the belief that family considerations should guide our daily decisions can shape consensus views within a family, including on a social issue like climate change,” said Pearson. “And this can have an impact on the sharing of climate beliefs and concerns within Latino families.”
For their work, the Pearson and Schuldt group used data from a national survey of 1,212 US adults conducted in the spring of 2016 as part of a larger study of opinion on climate change. The analysis was limited to respondents who identified themselves as either Latino (304 total; 29.2%) or non-Hispanic / Latino-White (741 total; 70.8%).
Research focused on two key climate beliefs: certainty that climate change is happening; and belief in scientific consensus. Support for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was also measured using five questions, each of which could be answered on a scale of 1-7 (strong disapproval of strong support).
Familism was measured by agreement with the statements: “A person should help their elderly parents in emergency situations, for example help financially or share a house” and “Children should be taught to always be good because they represent the family”. “The Measured on a scale from 1 to 5, from strongly disagree to completely agree, which reflects a sense of obligation and obligation towards one’s own family.
The researchers also measured climate beliefs and concerns that were specifically focused on the family, including consensus views within the family – consistent with saying “Most of my family believe that man-made climate change is” [NOT] occur “- and the concern about harm to the family was expressed with the statement” I am concerned that climate change will harm my children and grandchildren “on a scale of 1-5 (strongly disagree to completely agree) rated.
Across all measures and controlling multiple demographic variables, familism was found to be the strongest predictor of climate outlook among Latinos. For whites, political ideology and education were consistently the strongest predictors, although family values also predicted their political support.
One discovery that stood out for Romero-Canyas is the degree to which familism indicates climate beliefs among Latinos.
“It’s the most important predictor among Latinos – even more important than politics,” he said. “That’s what’s interesting for me. If you look at whites, familism also predicts their climate beliefs, but nowhere near as strong as politics. When it comes to climate change, for Latinos, family values seem to outweigh political values. “
Schuldt said that other research shows that as a Latino family acculturates in the United States, the familism effect decreases. “Family values may be at odds with American culture’s focus on self-reliance and independence.”
Pearson said this work, and future studies in the area, could have implications for climate organizations and outreach.
“It’s often viewed as a political issue, and I think our findings suggest that for certain groups, politics may not be the lens through which they look at climate change,” Pearson said. “This has important implications for stakeholder engagement. What do we appeal to – people’s politics, their sense of justice, their concern for the environment or perhaps their family values? “
Other contributors included Guadalupe Bacio, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Chicana / o and Latina / o Studies at Pomona College; and Sarah Naiman, a Cornell PhD student in natural resources.