A team of U.S. researchers has suggested that parenting styles are shaped by economic factors that incentivise one strategy over others.
The team asserted that economic conditions, especially inequality and return to education, have influenced child-rearing.
"All parents want their children to succeed and we argue that the economic environment influences their methods of child-rearing," said study author Fabrizio Zilibotti from Yale University.
"For instance, greater occupational mobility and lower inequality today makes an authoritarian approach less effective than generations ago. It's not that parents spare the rod because they are more concerned about their children's wellbeing now than they were 100 years ago. Rather, parenting strategies adapted to the modern economy," Zilibotti added.
They asserted that parents were driven by a combination of altruism -- a desire for their children to succeed -- and paternalism that leads them to try to influence their children's choices by either moulding or restricting their children's preferences.
"There is an element of common interest between parents and children -- a drive for success -- but there is tension where parents care more about their children's wellbeing as adults," Zilibotti stated.
"We postulate that socio-economic conditions drive how much control or monitoring parents exercise on their children's choices."
They found that parenting became more permissive in the 1960s and 1970s when economic inequality reached historic lows in industrialised countries and parents could realise a return on letting children learn from their own experiences, they argue.
Across countries, they document a link between parenting, on the one hand, and income inequality and return to education, on the other hand.
Using survey, where people are asked which attitudes or values, they find most important in child-rearing, they identify permissive parents with those emphasising the values of imagination and independence in rearing children, whereas authoritarian and authoritative parents are those, who insist on the importance of hard work and obedience, respectively.
They showed that parents in more unequal countries are less permissive. The same pattern emerges when they consider redistributive policies. In countries with more redistributive taxation, more social expenditure, and even stronger civil right protection, parents are significantly more permissive.
They noted that their theory can help explain the recent rise of "helicopter parenting," a version of the authoritative style in which parents seek to influence their children's choices with a combination of persuasion and intensive monitoring.
The research has appeared in the Econometrica journal.