The Daughter Effect

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abortion, Congress, Feminism, Women's Issues

This Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial needs more attention —

A new report posits what many fathers of daughters already know — that having a daughter can change a man’s political perspective on women’s issues. …

… Having a daughter is likely to literally bring such issues home, forcing lawmakers to view them in real, not abstract, terms. It always helps to put a human face on an issue. It would seem even more so when that face is your child’s.

It may, as well, make it easier to recognize that reproductive choices belong in the personal province of a woman and her family, not the state.

The report is called “Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues,” and it was written by Ebonya Washington for the National Bureau of Economic Research and dated January 2006. It is available for download for a $5 fee at the NBER web site. Here is a summary. I also found what might be a preliminary version of the report in PDF format — “Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues” by Ebonya Washington, Yale University, May 2005. It may not be exactly the same as the more recent NBER document, but it’s free.

Anyway, Washington looked at voting patterns in the 105th Congress and found that having daughters is a “positive and significant predictor” of how legislators vote on reproductive rights. I skimmed through the Yale version of the report and found these points:

1. The daughter effect is more pronounced in male legislators than in female legislators.

2. Although the daughter factor has some effect across all “gender gap” issues, it is most pronounced in the area of reproductive rights.

3. Point #2 is significant because public opinion polls on reproductive rights actually show less of a “gender gap” than some other issues, such as crime, defense, gay rights, and welfare spending. This suggests that fathers’ opinions are not changing just because they are exposed to their daughters’ points of view.

4. The older the daughter, the more pronounced is the daughter effect. It seems to grow over time.

You can glean more about factors and methodologies from the paper. There’s, like, tables and Greek letters and everything. The point is that the mere fact of having daughters, especially daughters approaching reproductive age, seems to have a statistically measurable impact on the way legislators, especially male legislators, vote regarding reproductive rights. (My skimming through the report didn’t tell me how big the daughter effect is; perhaps someone who understands statistical analysis could take a look and explain it. I would appreciate that muchly.)

I wrote recently that “whether one is pro-choice or anti-choice does not depend on whether one thinks embryos are human beings. It depends on whether one recognizes that women are human beings.” The study seems to corroborate this.

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11 Comments

  1. Donna  •  Mar 10, 2006 @2:05 pm

    You get some strange reactions from the hypocritical Bush loving Republican fathers of daughter types though. I was raised Catholic and my father is one of those who says that fetuses are babies. When my father found out that my 16 year old sister was pregnant, he screamed at her that she would get an abortion so that his family and friends wouldn’t find out. My sister did not want an abortion and she had waited too long anyway, the only reason my father knew she was pregnant is that she started showing. So he threw the “slut” out of the house instead. This is why I know that it isn’t about saving babies but about controlling women, about viewing sex as dirty, about ignorance, and most of all about appearances. They like to appear perfect so that they can sit back and judge everyone else. The appearance is more important than actually sticking to your principles.

    My father also threw me out of the house when I was 21 and he “found out” I was having sex with my boyfriend. The odd part is that two years before he had discovered my birth control pills…what did he think I was doing with them in the first place??? I had assumed that he knew we had been having sex but some sort of conservative denial mechanism must have kicked in and he convinced himself I was taking them for some other reason.

  2. maha  •  Mar 10, 2006 @2:09 pm

    Donna, wow, that’s harsh.

  3. Donna  •  Mar 10, 2006 @2:23 pm

    I hate to rain on your parade, because I really would like to think that daughters have that kind of influence on these close minded louts, maha, but my experience says different when your father is a real neanderthal! LOL

    I am one of 4 daughters and my father is remarried and now has 4 stepdaughters too. My stepmother says there was one time she wanted to bash him over the head, her youngest was going to university for a degree in English and he said he couldn’t see her being a teacher so she should change majors. In my fathers mind there are few jobs for women, wife and mother, teacher, nurse, and secretary. My stepsister didn’t listen to him and now she is an editor in NYC.

  4. Donna  •  Mar 10, 2006 @3:25 pm

    Wow, Maha….I think you have two Donna’s posting here…..I noticed this happened one time some weeks ago…..please advise.

  5. maha  •  Mar 10, 2006 @3:28 pm

    Two postings — The hampsters who run the whatzit that makes the web site go probably fell off the wheel. Don’t worry about it.:-)

  6. Donna in WI  •  Mar 10, 2006 @4:05 pm

    I saw that too a few weeks back, Donna. Nice to meet you! LOL
    I’ll adjust my name so people can tell us apart. (I wrote the first two Donna posts)

  7. merciless  •  Mar 10, 2006 @4:07 pm

    One of the Donnas has a good point about fathers wanting to appear perfect and so encouraging abortion. I really think that the country club, chamber of commerce republicans are shaking in their shoes over what happened in South Dakota, even though they say they are pro-coathanger.

    Those republicans got lazy and greedy, and wanted all their tax breaks, and of course Roe will never really get overturned. Ha. Now we all get to suffer.

  8. Steve Nichols  •  Mar 10, 2006 @4:46 pm

    I’ve been pro-choice since whenever I became aware it was an issue, but I still don’t automatically tie the right to an abortion as being a women’s rights issue (It is, but it’s not something that jumps out at me).

    I’m a white man who grew up when the 3 Johns were culturally ascendant–John Kennedy, John Wayne, and John Glenn. The notion that women, gays or blacks had legitimate grievances just wasn’t part of the pop culture milieu when I was a kid, and it was only after the Army and during and after college that I began to contemplate the issues and difficulties facing those groups.

    And as I’m more introspective and philosophically inclined than most men, I’m not surprised that the rest of the fraternity has trouble wrapping their big heads around this and similar issues.

    As an aside, I’ve watched with interest as my mother became more interested in feminism and women’s issues as she grew older. I’m sure that the intellectual growth of my two sisters contributed to my mom’s becoming interested in women’s issues. It’s worth noting that mom raised me and four younger siblings on my dad’s VA and Social Security benefits when he died age 38.

  9. Donna  •  Mar 11, 2006 @12:19 am

    To Donna in WI, post #7 from Donna in Il, post #5……hello to you, too.

    When I read your first two posts, I reacted to the name and also resonated about ‘neanderthal dad’. I grew up in abject poverty, went to work at age 14 just to be able to get high school textbooks and necessary things like trips to the dentist….. so I was thrilled to learn that I had won a scholarship that meant I could go on to college. My dad’s reaction, “What a stupid idea for a girl.”

    Neanderthal dads, I think, are scared little fellows inside…..like bullies, they pick on people physically smaller than them….

  10. Donna in WI  •  Mar 11, 2006 @3:49 am

    I also got scholarships to go to college but my dad thought it was a great idea…after all I’d be able to find a great husband there. LOL

  11. MIKE REEDY  •  May 29, 2006 @2:01 pm

    I FOUND SOME OF YOUR ARTICLES INTERESTING YOU HAVE SOME STRICT VERIWPOINTS ON ABORTION BUT IT REALLY IS UP TOO THE WOMAN

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