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Children can foster climate change concern among their parents


The collective action that is required to mitigate and adapt to climate change is extremely difficult to achieve, largely due to socio-ideological biases that perpetuate polarization over climate change1,2. Because climate change perceptions in children seem less susceptible to the influence of worldview or political context3, it may be possible for them to inspire adults towards higher levels of climate concern, and in turn, collective action4. Child-to-parent intergenerational learning—that is, the transfer of knowledge, attitudes or behaviours from children to parents5—may be a promising pathway to overcoming socio-ideological barriers to climate concern5. Here we present an experimental evaluation of an educational intervention designed to build climate change concern among parents indirectly through their middle school-aged children in North Carolina, USA. Parents of children in the treatment group expressed higher levels of climate change concern than parents in the control group. The effects were strongest among male parents and conservative parents, who, consistent with previous research1, displayed the lowest levels of climate concern before the intervention. Daughters appeared to be especially effective in influencing parents. Our results suggest that intergenerational learning may overcome barriers to building climate concern.

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The datasets generated and analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Journal peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Hilary Boudet, Matthew Motta and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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The authors acknowledge North Carolina Sea Grant supported by the NOAA office of Sea Grant, United States Department of Commerce, under grant No. 2016-R/16-ELWD-1, for funding for this research. The authors also acknowledge The Department of Interior Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center for funding for this research through a graduate fellowship awarded to D.F.L. Finally, the authors acknowledge J. Hartley for creating Supplementary Fig. 1.

Author information

The ideas for this paper were conceived by D.F.L., K.T.S. and M.N.P. Data analysis was performed by D.F.L., K.T.S. and M.N.P. All authors contributed to the writing and editing of the paper.

Correspondence to Danielle F. Lawson.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes 1 and 2, Supplementary Figures 1 and 2, Supplementary Tables 1–7 and Supplementary References.

  2. Reporting Summary

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Fig. 1: Parent climate change concern as a function of political ideology.
Fig. 2: Climate change concern for fathers and mothers.
Fig. 3: Climate change concern for parents of sons versus daughters.