New York, NY, 04.08.2020

US parents are deeply divided about sending kids back to school – wary of the risks, but anxious to get back to focusing on their careers

The COVID-19 virus is forcing US adults to confront a variety of no-win choices – with no population more profoundly affected than parents. As many schools nationwide are gearing up to re-open in the Fall, parents find themselves deeply ambivalent – knowing they need to get back to the workplace but worried about the infection risks their kids will face in classrooms or on playgrounds.

In GfK research conducted last week, 68% of US parents with children under age 18 said they agree strongly or somewhat that it would be too risky to re-open schools this Fall – compared to 62% of the general population. (See Table 1.) The same proportion of parents – and 60% of all US adults – also said that re-opening would be unfair to teachers.

But parents were also more likely than all US adults to say that schools need to re-open so that parents can get back to their workplaces (60% parents vs. 51% total population) so the economy can recover (57% parents vs. 47% total).

When asked to make a stark choice between sending their kids back to school or ignoring mandates and keeping them home, parents favored a return to in-person schooling – 56% versus 44%.

Table 1. Attitudes toward school re-opening:
Parents with children under 18 vs. total US population


Too risky to re-open

Re-opening would be unfair to teachers

Re-opening needed for parents’ work

Re-opening needed for econ. recovery

Parents with children < 18





All US adults (age 16 to 65)





* Parents who agree strongly or somewhat. Source: GfK Consumer Pulse

In addition, while all US respondents were more likely to favor a hybrid (in-person plus online) model of reopening, parents preferred a full return to on-site schooling. (See Table 2.)

Table 2. Support for different models of school re-opening


General population





Fully remote



Fully re-open



Attending in shifts



Source: GfK Consumer Pulse research

GfK found similar mixed feelings among the parents of college students. Three-quarters (72%) of these parents said that re-opening universities in the fall would be too risky – 12 percentage points higher than the general population. (See Table 3.) And 76% felt that colleges re-opening for residential learning were prioritizing “financial gain” ahead of the well-being of students and staff; this compares to 59% in the general population.

But these same parents also were more likely to recognize that re-opening is critical to the financial well-being of universities (70%, versus 53% of the general population) and college towns (66%, versus 54%).

Table 3. Attitudes toward school re-opening:
Parents of college students vs. total US population


Too risky to re-open

Re-opening prioritizes financial gain

Re-opening necessary for universities

Re-opening necessary for college towns

Parents with college students





All US adults (age 16 to 65)





* Parents who agree strongly or somewhat. Source: GfK Consumer Pulse

Parents’ mixed feelings mirror the overall concerns of the general population. More than four in ten (43%) US adults said they are worried about the health of those around them, and essentially the same proportion (42%) reported being concerned about their own health. But 26% also expressed anxiety about the virus’s impact on their household’s economy, and another 26% were bothered by limitations placed on their personal freedoms, such as the ability to travel.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen the twin concerns of health and economic well-being fighting for dominance in consumers’ minds,” said Stacy Bereck, Managing Director of Consumer Insights at GfK. “This nearly impossible choice is clearly playing out among parents as the school year approaches. Depending on how the virus progresses, and the evolution of school plans for the coming session, we may see these attitudes shift again. This is another sign that marketers and researchers in a variety of categories – from technology to clothing to snack food -- need to keep a close watch on consumer attitudes as the virus crisis continues to unfold.”

GfK’s Consumer Pulse research covers 30 countries, allowing brands and marketers to #MasterTheCrisis by understanding consumer attitudes, behavior, purchase intent, media consumption, and more – both now and in the future. The research reveals changes in demand for goods and services, as well as which sectors and channels present risks or opportunities, so that companies can respond with confidence and come out of the crisis stronger, better positioned, and closer to consumers than before.

As part of this research, GfK interviewed a representative sample of 1,001 US consumers (ages 16 to 65) during July 21 through 23, 2020.     

GfK – extracting the signals from the noise

In a world of data overflow, disruption and misuse, picking up the right “signal from noise” is key to win. We at GfK are the trusted partner and have more than 85 years of experience in combining data and science to help you make the right business decisions. Together with our attention to detail and advanced Augmented Intelligence, we provide you with world-class analytics that delivers not just descriptive data but actionable recommendations always-on at your fingertips. As a result, you can make key business decisions with confidence which help you drive sales, organizational and marketing effectiveness. That’s why we promise to you “Growth from Knowledge.”

For more information, please visit or follow GfK on Twitter


Latest Press Releases

View all Press