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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.
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. In the words of Warner and Steel (1999), “child rearing might provide a mechanism for social change whereby fathers' connection with their daughters undermines … patriarchy”. 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 workingfamilies flexibility and tax-free education. Her data -- compiled partly but not wholly from voting record scores compiled by the three interest groups of the National Organization of Women, the American Association of University Women, and the National Right to Life Coalition -- cover a cross-section of 828 members of four congresses of the US House of Representatives for the years 1997 to 2004. As her final sentence puts it: “Not only should we consider the influence that parents have on children’s behavior, but we should acknowledge that influence may flow from child to parent” (Washington 2008).
Our 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.