Fathers and Daughters


By now you have probably read Barack Obama’s piece in Glamour where he writes about feminism. He says: “So I’d like to think that I’ve been pretty aware of the unique challenges women face—it’s what has shaped my own feminism. But I also have to admit that when you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way.

Daughters indeed change their fathers’ attitudes on gender issues. We have plenty of evidence on this by now. Research by sociologist Rebecca Warner has shown that “both fathers’ and mothers’ support for public policies designed to address gender equity increases when parents have daughters only…The findings are stronger for men.” Moreover, “when men have sons only, they show the least support for gender equity public policies.”

Economists have explored a similar relationship in the political sphere. A paper by Yale economist, Ebonya Washington, shows that having a daughter increases a male United States Representative’s propensity to vote liberally on reproductive rights legislations. The effect is similar for Democrat and Republican fathers. The study is inconclusive on the impact daughters have on female Representatives.

The same is true in the UK and in Germany. A study by Andrew Oswald and Nattavudh Powdthavee shows that “having daughters leads people to be more sympathetic to left-wing parties. Giving birth to sons, by contrast, seems to make people more likely to vote for a right-wing party.”

In fact, the father-daughter relationship may underlie greater rights for women. In a really interesting paper, economists Michele Tertlit and Matthias Doepke, try to understand why men voluntarily relinquished some of their rights to women. It was voluntary because the expansion of women’s legal rights took place long before women gained the right to vote. The authors “show that men face a tradeoff between the rights they want for their own wives (namely none) and the rights of other women in the economy. Men prefer other men’s wives to have rights because men care about their own daughters and because an expansion of women’s rights increases educational investments in children…This tradeoff…has shifted over time, because of a changing role of human capital. When the return to education increases, finding well-educated spouses for one’s children becomes a more important concern. Similarly, a rising return to education increases fathers’ concern about the rights of their daughters, because the daughter’s marital bargaining power matters for the grandchildren’s education. According to the authors’ theory, the “technological change that increased the demand for human capital…elevated the importance of children’s education, it strengthened men’s incentives to expand women’s bargaining power, and it ultimately induced men to voluntarily extend rights to women.”

If you are interested in a more detailed literature review on how child gender affects parents, this paper by Shelly Lundberg , who, by the way, is the new Chair of CSWEP, is a good start.

Have a great weekend!





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