The impact of parenthood on environmental attitudes and behaviour: a longitudinal investigation of the legacy hypothesis

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

Population and Environment


Gregory O. Thomas, Rose Fisher, Lorraine Whitmarsh, Taciano L. Milfont and Wouter Poortinga

Publication date


Willingness to engage in sustainable actions may be limited by the psychological distance of climate change. In this study, we test the legacy hypothesis, which holds that having children leads parents to consider the legacy left to offspring in respect of environmental quality. Using the Understanding Society dataset, a longitudinal survey representative of the UK population (n = 18,176), we assess how having children may change people’s individual environmental attitudes and behaviour. Results indicate that having a new child is associated with a small decrease in the frequency of a few environmental behaviours. Only parents with already high environmental concern show a small increase in the desire to act more sustainably after the birth of their first child. Overall, the results do not provide evidence in support of the legacy hypothesis in terms of individual-level environmental attitudes and behaviours. We argue that the transition to parenthood is a time where concern is prioritised on the immediate wellbeing of the child and not on the future environmental threats.

Volume and page numbers

39, 261-276





Environmental Sociology, Psychology, Childbearing: Fertility and Social Attitudes


Open Access; © The Author(s) 2017; This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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