Most Americans think their families are the most important part of their lives. Most say their "ideal" is to marry and have children. Nine in 10 are "very" or "mostly" satisfied with their present family lives.
Yet most Americans also think that U.S. family life if deteriorating, George Gallup Jr. will tell the coming White House Conference on Families, and most favor multiple new forms of public and private intervention to shore up the family and protect it from problems ranging from violence to inflation, unemployment and drinking and drugs.
The Gallup Organization yesterday reported its findings from a survey on American families conducted for the White House conference -- or conferences.
More than 700 delegates from East Coast states will attend a first, three-day conference in Baltimore starting Thursday. Two more conferences will be hled, in Minneapolis June 19-21 and in Los Angeles July 10-12.
Americans are eager, Gallup said, for private and government actions to help families. Most, he said, support changes in tax, health, welfare and housing laws to help families; tax credits to businesses and community groups giving day care and other child care, and government funding of day care.
There is also substantial support, he said, for more flex-time on the job and for new forms of sick leave so workers can stay home to help all family members, not just children.
Nine out of 10 persons, he said, want even more emphasis on "traditional family ties," on "knowing I have someone who loves and cares for me."
But 45 percent of all the 1,592 adults 18 and older that Gallup questioned said family life has "become worse" in the last 15 years. Only 37 percent saw it as better.
The reasons why, Gallup said, can only be called "shocking" and "disturbing." They include the increase in divorce, high youth unemployment that helps trigger crime and violence, violence inside and outside families -- with increasing child and spouse abuse -- and accidents, deaths and increasing abuse of alcohol and drugs.
About a fifth of all those questioned knew of a physically abused child in their neighborhood, and a husband or wife so badly beaten that police or social action and divorce resulted.
Money problems disturbed most people. Most said they help cause divorce. Most named poverty and three other factors -- drug abuse, alcohol abuse and a decline in moral and religious values -- as the most harmful influences on families. Gallup called alcohol abuse "enormous" and growing. Parents and teen-agers alike call alcohol and drug abuse among the young a leading problem.
Most people also said energy costs and government policies that cost them jobs and buying power are among their most important problems.
Most think sex and violence on television also harm family life.
There is good news too, Gallup said. More than eight persons in 10 like their jobs. Many people say "the pleasure of working" is their main reason for working, and "almost as many work for pleasure or for pleasure and money as for moeny alone."
One woman in three thinks the most satisfying life for her would include marriage, children and a fulltime job. But "people want help," Gallup said, and "five main mandates" emerge from the findings.
These are the need for health care for the old, including more home care so families will stay intact; tax breaks for parents with handicapped children; tax credits and other help for working mothers, including day care; help for poor families; and impact statements, like environmental impact statements, on effects of government actions on families.
People want "supportive services" from government, Gallup said, but "they don't want government to run their lives."
Jim Guy Tucker, conference chairman, said, "I believe the survey findings demonstrate that many of our public and private policies are often insensitive to families."