NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers' Voting on Women's Issues

"Parenting an additional female child increases the propensity of a member of Congress to vote liberally on women's issues, particularly reproductive rights."

Economists have long concerned themselves with environmental influences on an individual's beliefs and behaviors. There has been significant research done on the effects of environmental factors such as neighborhood, peers, parents, and siblings on such behaviors as educational attainment, welfare use, and marriage. The idea that family, and in particular children, can influence parental behavior seems obvious. In fact, psychologists have shown that parenting daughters will increase the parents' feminist sympathies. However, among economists, the concept of children's influence on parents has been neglected.

In Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers' Voting on Women's Issues (NBER Working Paper No. 11924), author Ebonya Washington considers whether children can influence parental behavior outside of the household, in the way that neighbors and peers continue to exert influence over an individual's behavior even when the individual is not in the presence of the neighbor or the peer. The author chooses to examine attitudinal shifts in the political arena, asking whether parenting daughters increases a Congressperson's propensity to vote liberally on bills affecting women's issues. Using Congressional voting record scores compiled by the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), Washington finds that the presence of female children is a positive and significant predictor of voting on women's issues.

By turning to the universe of votes recorded in the 105th Congress, she demonstrates that the influence of daughters is most prevalent on a women's issue for which gender differences are small: reproductive rights. The concentration of the daughter effect in the reproductive rights arena is not surprising, given that past research has demonstrated a link between parenting daughters and liberal beliefs on women's issues. Reproductive rights is an issue that is thought of as uniquely female; for those voting on reproductive rights, having females in their lives would be particularly salient. A second reason for the pattern of the daughter effect is that reproductive rights are a moral issue. Previous research has shown that legislators are subject to less party pressure and are therefore more free to vote their own views on moral issues.

Washington finds that, conditional on number of children, parenting an additional female child increases the propensity of a member of Congress to vote liberally on women's issues, particularly reproductive rights. Such a voting pattern does not seem to be explained away by constituency preferences, suggesting not only that parenting daughters affects preferences, but also that those personal preferences affect legislative behavior.

These results suggest that there may be other reverse causalities in the parental/child attitude relationship that should be explored. The results also have a bearing on the body of research on Congressional voting. This paper not only provides a robustness check on the finding that ideology affects legislative voting, it also serves to identify an additional component of that ideology: child gender composition

-- Les Picker

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