In August, for Women’s Equality Day, basketball star Stephen Curry wrote in the Player’s Tribune that raising daughters is helping him appreciate more fully that women’s inequality is unacceptable. His experience as a father of a daughter, he wrote, means that “the idea of women’s equality has become a little more personal for me, lately, and a little more real.”
He’s not alone. Our newly published research confirms that men whose first child is a girl are more likely to support policies that promote gender equity than men whose first child is a boy.
Until now, studies have had contradictory results on whether having daughters affects men’s attitudes toward gender equity policies.
But scholars haven’t been so sure that holds up more generally. Some argue that having a daughter leads men to more strongly identify with the Republican Party and to adopt more conservative positions on gender-related issues, including abortion, teen sex and affirmative action. Other scholars conclude that fathers with daughters develop more liberal attitudes on gender issues and become more likely to support left-wing political parties. Finally, recent work finds that daughters have no significant effect on men’s gender role attitudes.
So what gives?
How we did our research
Following decades of research on political socialization, we theorized that having a daughter as a man’s first child is a critical event in the political socialization of men. Just as Stephen Curry has suggested, we argue that the experience of “first daughterhood” leads men to reassess their preexisting gender attitudes and to express higher levels of support for gender equality policies.
To test this possibility, we designed an original survey of 302 fathers, which we embedded in the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). The CCES is a nationally representative stratified sample survey of over 60,000 Americans conducted by the survey organization YouGov and was in the field from late September until late October of 2016.
We asked each father in our sample the gender and birth order of each of their children. We then asked whether they supported various gender equality policies, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, enhanced sexual harassment enforcement, and pay equity between men and women.
Finally, we also asked questions about a father’s partisanship, ideology, education, age, religiosity, marital status, support for traditional gender roles and sexist attitudes, the latter two on scales that have been shown valid in other research. By controlling for this information, we were able to more precisely estimate the effect of having a daughter rather than a son as a first child on a father’s support for gender equity policies.
First daughters change men’s views on gender equity policies more than first sons do.
As you can see in the figure below, fathers of first daughters are more likely than fathers of first sons to support all the gender equity policies we asked about, including Title IX, enforcement of prohibitions on sexual harassment and gender pay equity. On average, men with first daughters show five percentage points more support for gender equity policies. But what happens when we control for other factors that may shape men’s gender equity attitudes?
To examine this question, we created an index of our three gender-equity policies and ran a statistical model that controlled for the factors listed above. We found that whether a father has a first daughter is among the most important factors accounting for men’s support for these policies – more significant than age, race, education, religiosity, whether a man has a sister or whether a man is married. Specifically, we find that fathers with first daughters, relative to fathers with first sons, are 11 points more likely to express support for our index of gender-equality policies. Notably, we consistently found that simply having a daughter in the family doesn’t affect fathers’ support for gender equity policies. Neither does it matter whether a father has more or fewer daughters than sons. It’s the sex of the first child that makes the difference.
This first daughter effect is unique to fathers; we do not find that having a daughter as a first child influences mothers’ attitudes. What’s more, having a first daughter has similar effects among Democratic and Republican fathers; fathers with young and older daughters; and fathers whose first daughter was born before or after Congress passed Title IX.
This might explain why other researchers’ findings are so contradictory
Our results suggest that existing studies have such different findings because few if any studies have distinguished fathers of first daughters from fathers of daughters more generally.
In short, Curry – whose first child is a daughter – is speaking for many other men when he says he thinks differently about gender inequality because of that daughter. Being the father of a first daughter does indeed lead him to see the world through his daughter’s eyes.
Tatishe M. Nteta (@TatisheNteta) is an associate professor in the political science department and former family research scholar at the Center for Research on Families at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Jill Greenlee (@greenlee_jill) is an associate professor in the department of politics and the women’s, gender and sexuality program at Brandeis University.
Jesse Rhodes (@JesseRhodesPS) is an associate professor and chair in the department of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Elizabeth Sharrow (@e_sharrow) is an assistant professor in the departments of political science and history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.