The Wilson Quarterly

Political scientists have spent decades weighing the factors that sway individual votes in the U.S. House of Representatives: party affiliation, constituent preferences, and a legislator’s personal opinions and characteristics. Ebonya L. Washington, an econ­omist at Yale University, has identified another influence: daughters. Each female child a member of the House has, Washington found, significantly increases the likelihood that the legislator will cast a liberal vote, particularly on reproductive rights ­issues.

Washington used the voting scorecards compiled by the American Association of University Women, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the Na­tional Right to Life Coalition to gauge the impact of having a female child on votes related to women’s issues. All but a few of the legislators were men. Among House members with two chil­dren, those with one daughter earned an average score from NOW nine points higher than that of lawmakers with two sons (out of 100 total points). Members with two daughters and no sons scored 18 points more than those with just one daughter. Washington found a similar effect among both Democrats and Republicans, regardless of which organ­ization’s scorecard and which Con­gress she examined. All of the scores were from the 1997–2004 period.

When looking at a legislator’s entire voting record, Washington found that having female children was correlated with a propensity to take the liberal side, and the strongest effect was always on legislation concerning reproductive rights. She speculates that legislators think about how their votes will affect people they know personally, so it’s not too sur­prising that people who call them Daddy have a powerful ­influence.

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The Source: "Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers' Voting on Women's Issues" by Ebonya L. Washington, in The American Economic Review, March 2008. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Vox Efx

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