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Survey On the Beliefs and Moral Values of America's Children, 1989




Hunter, J. D. (2021, August 21). Survey On the Beliefs and Moral Values of America's Children, 1989.


Convinced that the beliefs and moral values of children are important in their own right and that children's voices need to become part of the larger public discussion of America's future, the Girl Scouts of the USA, in partnership with the Lilly Endowment, Inc. and the C.S. Mott Foundation, commissioned child psychiatrist Robert Coles of Harvard University, sociologist James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia, public opinion researcher Louis Harris of Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., and John Seel of the Williamsburg Charter Foundation to conduct a nationwide survey of children's beliefs and moral values. The purpose of the study was to explore the range of children's beliefs and moral values and the consequences in their lives. Questions asked include: Who are the adults with the most influence on the children's moral commitments? What are the moral bearings directing their decision-making in practice? What are the pressures children face as adolescents and young adults? What are the moral judgments they make in the face of difficult everyday situations? How do they view the choices concerning their own futures and the responsibilities of citizenship as they approach adulthood?

The ARDA has added five additional variables to the original data set to enhance the users' experience on our site.

Data File

Cases: 5012
Variables: 166
Weight Variable: 170) WEIGHT

Data Collection

October-November 1989

Funded By

Girl Scouts of the United States of America
The Williamsburg Charter Foundation
The Lilly Endowment, Inc.
The C.S. Mott Foundation

Collection Procedures

The survey was conducted by Harris/Scholastic Research, a division of the Harris firm, targeting more than 5,000 girls and boys between fourth grade and 12th grade. Children in public, parochial and other private schools all across the nation were asked more than 90 questions. The surveys were administered by teachers in a classroom setting.

Sampling Procedures

The sample was drawn from a list of 110,000 schools in the country maintained by Scholastic, Inc. The universe was divided into cells stratified by type and size of school, region and size of municipality. Sampling was random, based on the number of students in each cell proportionate to the number of students in the universe. The sampling was conducted to create a cross section of 4,000 students in grades fourth-12th and an oversample of 1,000 students in grades 4-6. In addition, the sample included oversamples of students in parochial and other private schools to allow a sufficient number of these students for separate analysis. If a particular school could not participate, it was replaced by another randomly drawn school from the same region, level of school, size of school and size of place in the same or nearest ZIP code in order to preserve the integrity of the original random draw. A particular grade was selected from each school randomly with a control for geographic clustering.

Of the 5,012 students interviewed, 59% were in elementary school (2,970), 24% in junior high (1,204) and 17% in senior high (838). Of these 72% were in public schools (3,624), 13% in private schools, both sectarian and secular (669) and 14% in parochial schools (719). An oversample of private and parochial schools was included to allow for separate analysis of students in these schools.

The survey was weighted to reflect the actual distribution of students in fourth through 10th grades across the United States as reported by the Census in October 1986.

Principal Investigators

James Davison Hunter, Louis Harris and Associates, Inc.

Related Publications

Girl Scouts Survey on the Beliefs and Moral Values of America's Children. New York: Girl Scouts of the United States of America, 1990.


Category labels for FAVSTAR were unable to be reconstructed, however, in the report cited above, researchers noted:
"Overwhelmingly, the public figures most admired are from the entertainment world. Out of more than 3,000 single person received more than 150 votes. But nearly four out of 10 children identified actors, actresses or models. The next most admired category were the popular musicians. Eleven percent chose athletes as the ones they admired most, while only four percent of the children chose politicians (such as George Bush and Ronald Reagan) and at the same rate endorsed comedians such as David Letterman...It is noteworthy that business leaders such as Donald Trump were chosen by only 1 percent and even less than 1 percent chose religious leaders...Significantly, 17 percent of children either did not know or gave no answer, suggesting that no clear heroes or celebrities came to mind." (Girl Scouts of the United States of America, 1990:3.)

Here is a copy of the table included in the report, collapsing the data into the following categories (Girl Scouts of the United States of America, 1990.):
Category Frequency
Actors or Actresses & Models 1,065
Musicians 529
Athletes 312
Comedians 171
Politicians 156
Business 36
Religious Leaders 15
Miscellaneous Other 341
No Answer/Don't Know 580

Category labels for EXTCURR1, EXTCURR2, EXTCURR3, EXTCURR4 and EXTCURR5 were unable to be reconstructed. The following is a copy of a table included in the report, collapsing the data into the following categories (Girl Scouts of the United States of America, 1990.):
Category Total %
Basketball 21
Band 17
Track 13
Football 13
Student Government 11
Cheerleading 10

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