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Having Daughters Rather Than Sons Makes You More Liberal

Andrew J. Oswald and Nattavudh Powdthavee write:

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.

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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. . . 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 [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’. Although
panel data cannot resolve every difficulty of establishing cause-and-effect relationships, they allow sharper testing than can simple cross-section data.

They addressed the concerns about the research I’d expressed earlier.

Just one thing . . .

I have only one request, and I know it’s too late because the article is already scheduled to appear in a journal, but I’ll ask anyway. The article has lots of graphs and lots of tables–and I’ll spare you my detailed thoughts on these, because, again, it’s already scheduled to appear.

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.

(The graphs that are in the Oswald and Powdthavee article give average numbers of boys and girls for voters of different parties, but that’s not quite what I’m looking for. As the authors so clearly explained, the key question is the effect of the sex of the child on parents’ attitudes and behavior, and I’d like a graph that would really show this. As it is, I honestly have difficulty figuring out the estimated effect size here. Yes, it’s great to see that coefficients are statistically significant–but I want to see what’s going on here. I want to see the estimated effect.)

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