If you've spent even ten minutes watching the news, reading the paper, or on the Internet, you've probably encountered the latest TERRIBLE THING THAT WILL KILL YOUR CHILDREN. (It's always in caps) Our fears about children's safety are at an all-time high, even though by nearly every measure, children's actual safety is far greater than ever.
A recent research paper sheds some interesting light on this phenomenon: "People don't only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous." That is, people are making far more moral
judgments about parents doing things like leaving their children unsupervised, and when people make a negative moral judgment about it, they are likely to estimate the factual
danger as being much higher.
As with most moral judgments, these have a very performative aspect; if everyone around you is outraged by something, but you aren't, you are likely to be perceived as immoral and therefore an outsider or even a threat. And since child-rearing is still such a communal thing (e.g., parents spend such a fraction of their time interacting with other parents of their children's peers), being marked as an outsider can have tremendous effects on one's life and one's children's. So there's pressure to echo those same sentiments. This is as true whether the threat is real (traffic accidents, not wearing safety belts) or entirely imaginary (satanic abuse, vaccines causing autism). And when everyone around you is performing the same fear, it's hard to judge which fears are actually real -- thus the rise of "stranger danger" fears ever since the 1970's, despite the fact that stranger abductions remain considerably less common than lightning strikes.
Also importantly (and as the interview below deals with), these moral judgments are often class
judgments. Saying that a woman is doing something evil for not being with her children at all times is really placing a judgment on doing a very specifically class-centered thing: not being a full-time housewife and mother. Quite apart from the gender issues, this is something that's simply not possible if you can't afford to have one parent at home -- and is ludicrous if you're a single parent. Punishing people for not doing this is punishing them for not following class standards, and for not belonging to the right social class.
h/t +Steven Flaeck