Daughters and Left-Wing Voting
Andrew J. Oswald (University of Warwick and Cornell University) Nattavudh Powdthavee (University of London and University of York)
From the paper introduction:
“In remarkable research, the sociologist Rebecca Warner and the economist Ebonya Washington have shown that the gender of a person’s children seems to influence the attitudes and actions of the parent.
Warner (1991) and Warner and Steel (1999) study American and Canadian mothers and fathers. The authors’ key finding is that support for policies designed to address gender equity is greater among parents with daughters. This result emerges particularly strongly for fathers. Because parents invest a significant amount of themselves in their children, the authors argue, the anticipated and actual struggles that offspring face, and the public policies that tackle those, matter to those parents. In the words of Warner and Steel (1999), “child rearing might provide a mechanism for social change whereby fathers’ connection with their daughters undermines … patriarchy”. The authors demonstrate that people who parent only daughters are more likely to hold feminist views (for example, to favor affirmative action). By collecting data on the voting records of US congressmen, Washington (2004) is able to go beyond this. 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.
Our 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’. Although panel data cannot resolve every difficulty of establishing cause-and-effect relationships, they allow sharper testing than can simple cross-section data. The paper checks that our result is not an artifact of family stopping-rules, discusses the predictions from a simple economic model, and tests for possible reverse causality.”
Washington, Ebonya. (2008) “Family socialization: How daughters affect their legislator fathers’ voting on women’s issues.” American Economic Review, forthcoming.
Abstract. “Economists have long concerned themselves with environmental influences, such as neighborhood, peers and family on individuals’ beliefs and behaviors. However, the impact of children on parents’ behavior has been little studied. Parenting daughters, psychologists have shown, increases feminist sympathies. I test the hypothesis that children, much like neighbors or peers, can influence adult behavior. I demonstrate that the propensity to vote liberally on reproductive rights is significantly increasing in a congress person’s proportion of daughters. The result demonstrates not only the relevance of child to parent behavioral influence, but also the importance of personal ideology in a legislator’s voting decisions as it is not explained away by voter preferences.”