Do daughters make you more conservative?

Now that I’ve reached the age where my friends from when I was a kid and during my college days (Virginia Tech, Computer Engineering, 1992) have kids you are teenagers and young adults, and thanks to the incredible social experiment that is Facebook, I’ve made a couple of observations (we data people would call this “anecdata“):

  1. (Some of) the wild ones, in particular the women, from that time have become intensely religious, and to a degree socially conservative, even when they never uttered a single word about religion at the time, and their behavior demonstrated what one would describe as having distinctly non-religious* qualities.
  2. (Some of) the men, and those who demonstrated what one would describe as typical young-adult and college types of behavior, e.g., drinking, partying, chasing girls, and who have had daughters since that time, have become intensely socially conservative, if not also religious.

It’s this second point that has inspired this post. I was thinking that this would be a great way to design a long term study to measure the behavioral and political mores of young people and then sample the same people at 20 or 30 years later to see if there was any change in those views, and how it correlated to things like having children, and the role the gender of the children might play to that. Now that would be job security!

However, it seems I’m just a little too late. There’s an article from the Atlantic from 2013, linking to another article, that describes a paper, “The Effect of Daughters on Partisanship and Social Attitudes Toward Women” from Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher that describes exactly this effect. Even more surprising is that this contrary to other studies at the time.

The researchers note that their results fly in the face of the few other studies that test the effect of daughters on political attitudes. Among them is a 2008 voting analysis of members of Congress. It found U.S. Senators and Representatives with more daughters voted more liberally than other members.  A 2010 study in Great Britain found having daughters increased the likelihood of voting for the Labor or Liberal Democrat parties as opposed to the Conservative Party, though the data are limited to “children who live at home, do not include information on those who have left home, and include step-children,” Rauscher and Conley write.

However, their findings are consistent with a recent study that found boys who grew up with sisters in the house were more likely to identify as adults with the Republican Party.

But why would having a daughter cause parents to become more Republican? The authors speculate that men and women might want more socially conservative policies when they have daughters and thus be more attracted to the GOP.

Well, yeah…um…duh. But why do they want more conservative policies? I speculate that it’s exactly because the men remember how they were when they were young, and actually want to protect their daughters from the visions they have of their former selves.

Well, my plans for a grant proposal have gone up in the air. The research is there and being done by very capable researchers. I just hope they dig a bit deeper into the “why?” part of it all. They’ll probably find a lot of hidden remorse and self-loathing which seems to drive most of the contemporary hate-oriented right-wing policies.

*I do not really wish to open up the can of worms about what behavior is condoned or condemned by religion, and intend here keep it to the more traditional, or even stereotypical, view of how one expects a religious person to behave.

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