Dads Of Daughters May Become More Politically Extreme, Regardless Of Party

by Megan Grant
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There is no relationship quite as uniquely politicized as fathers with daughters; and if research is any indication, merely being a father of a daughter really can affect a man's political beliefs. According to some data, men with daughters are more politically polarized than men without. Here's the thing, though: it doesn't appear to change a man's political stance — it merely exaggerates the one he already takes. In other words, having a daughter doesn't tend to turn a Republican into a Democrat, or vice versa. Instead, it makes a Democrat more of a Democrat, and a Republican more of a Republican. While the research is a bit scattered, here's what has been collected on the topic so far.

Daughters Make Men More Liberal?

One paper published in the American Economic Review back in 2008 by Professor Ebonya L. Washington said that when all other factors are equal, for every daughter a member of Congress has, they're likelier to vote more liberally, especially when it comes to matters of reproductive rights. For those of us who are more liberal leaning, it may seem as though the "father of daughters" trope comes into play — in that a father would want his daughter to have control over her body. Washington also found the pattern when it came to the discussion of flexible work policies and government support for kids.

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And there is plenty more research arguing that daughters change their fathers' attitudes toward gender and cause a shift to a more progressive ideology, while having no affect on the mother — presumably because gender issues were already more important in the mother's life. This is a trend documented across the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany, to name a few. The opposite has also been shown, too: research says men with sons are far likelier to vote conservative than men with daughters.

But just wait a second, there.

No, Daughters Make Men More Conservative

On the flip side, we must also consider the 2013 paper published in Sociological Forum by Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher, which says that people with female offspring tend to identify more conservatively as Republicans. While this research came from a survey conducted amongst everyday people — and not lawmakers — it still offers an opposing viewpoint.

So, which it? Do daughters make fathers more liberal or more conservative?

Daughters Change Men ... Without Really Changing Men

The answer is simple, sort of: it's neither, and it's both. Let's fast forward to the most recent research on the matter, published by the German Institute for Labor Economics by postdoctoral research fellow Clémentine Van Effenterre, of the Harvard Kennedy School.

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Van Effenterre looked at the voting behavior and political stance of American and French lawmakers, and made an interesting discovery: having a daughter won't push a man in one direction or another, politically. It will simply reinforce the political opinions that are already there. She found the same trend among voters, in addition to lawmakers. More specifically, Van Effenterre writes, "Having one additional female child reduces the probability of voting for abortion right by 8 percentage points for the right-wing members of the French National Assembly, and has zero effect on the left-wing members." Similarly, she says, having a daughter increases the probably of voting for teen access to abortion by seven percentage points for Democratic congressman in the United States, but it has zero effect on Republicans. So, in a nutshell, having a daughter made Democrats vote more left (in the U.S.) and Republics more right (in France). It did not cause them to flip flop, as many might be inclined to think it would.

When you think about it, the idea that the same scenario or experience (example: having a daughter) can have the same type of effect on two people with opposing beliefs (polarizing both Republicans and Democrats) exists across many avenues in life.

Look at gun control, for instance. After every shooting, those in favor of gun control argue that we obviously need gun control to help reduce the number of shootings. Those against gun control argue we definitely don't need it because people have to have the ability to defend themselves in the event of a shooting, and gun control would take away that ability.

Is the jury still out on the exact effect daughters have on their dads' political affiliations? That's probably the safest answer for now; but if there's one thing we can agree on, it's this: In some way, and in more ways than one, having a daughter changes you.