Does Having Daughters Make Parents More Liberal?

What an interesting article Andrew Gelman wrote about on fivethirtyeight.com, asserting–with numbers (disputable? maybe)–backing this up: parents with daughters are more liberal than parents with sons. In the article cited, researcher Ebonya Washington studies congressional votes: "She provides persuasive evidence that congressmen with female children tend to vote liberally on reproductive rights issues such as teen access to contraceptives. In a revision, Washington (2008) argues for a wider result, namely, that the congressmen vote more liberally on a range of issues such as working families flexibility and tax-free education."

When you start to think of examples of this, you can argue that politicians have long expressed more liberal views when it comes to their daughters than keeps with their overall political stance (think, McCain, think, Cheney, think, Palin). They fall back to "privacy" when asked about a range of issues daughter-related (mainly, abortion, but with Cheney, his views on gay rights are more nuanced than his ultra-conservative peers).

Authors of the paper add: "Our [Oswald and Powdthavee's] aim in this paper is to argue, with nationally representative random samples of men and women, that these results generalize to voting for entire political parties. We document evidence 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. Our data, which are primarily from Great Britain, are longitudinal. We also report corroborative results for a German panel. Access to longitudinal information gives us the opportunity — one denied to previous researchers — to observe people both before and after they have a new child of any particular gender. We can thereby test for political 'switching'."

Gelman points out what is missing from the paper: "But one thing that I didn't see graphed is what I would think is the most natural and important thing to graph: the estimated change in the probability of voting for the conservative party, comparing a parent of a boy compared to the parent of a girl. That is, the estimated effect on the vote of having a boy, compared to a girl. I assume this effect varies by sex and age of parent and also by age, number of previous children, past voting patterns, and other factors."

In the comments section of Gelman's post, people point to conservatives with daughters and liberals with sons. Of course, this isn't to say every single parent will be swayed moderate with daughters or conservative with sons. However, as women often experience around reproductive issues, personal lack of control is very different than theoretical rules or ideals. Might parents of daughters have similar personal-is-political awakenings? It's quite possible.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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