DOI: 10.1111/fare.13009 ISSN: 0197-6664

Intergenerational transmission of moral decision‐making inclinations

Daili Chen, Chuanjun Liu, Edgar Emmanuel Nolasco
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Education



This study investigated the intergenerational transmission of utilitarian and deontological inclinations, examining whether these pass from parents to adult children and exploring the potential moderating effects of parenting style and intergenerational involvement in this process.


Family factors, including religious norms and work values, influence moral development, but the intergenerational transmission of two moral inclinations—utilitarianism (emphasizing consequences, e.g., sacrificing one person to save five) and deontology (emphasizing intrinsic norms, e.g., refraining from intentionally harming the innocent)—remains underexplored.


We measured these inclinations in 171 parent–adult child pairs using a moral decision thought experiment and questionnaires on parenting style and intergenerational involvement.


Positive correlations emerged between parents and adult children for both inclinations. “Emotional warmth” in parenting style and intergenerational involvement showed significant negative moderating effects on the transmission of utilitarianism between generations.


This study provides empirical evidence of intergenerational transmission of moral inclinations. Higher emotional warmth and increased intergenerational involvement inhibit the transmission of utilitarian inclinations, leading to reduced prioritization of better consequences.


Enhanced emotional warmth and greater intergenerational involvement by parents can deter the transmission of utilitarian inclinations among adult children, prioritizing adherence to intrinsic norms over intentional harm for greater benefits.

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