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Fathers, Daughters, and Roll Call Voting in the U.S. Senate

- March 28, 2008


A daughter with her senatorial father: Meghan and John McCain

In research published in the March 2008 issue of the American Economic Review, Ebonya Washington begins by noting that “Psychologists have demonstrated a link between offspring gender and parental beliefs on … issues of political significance.” Prior studies have established, for example, that parents of daughters are more likely to support pay equity, comparable worth, affirmative action in regards to gender in employment, and Title IX policies. (Click here for the abstract of a pertinent study.)

Might this relationship carry over the highest stratum of political decision makers?

Washington finds that it does. Based on her analysis of roll-call voting in the U.S. Senate, she concludes as follows:

bq. While the notion that a legislator’s children influence his congressional voting behavior appears commonsensical, there has, to this point and to my knowledge, been no evidence to quantitatively substantiate this intuition. This paper begins to fill this hole in the literature. I find that conditional on number of children, parenting an additional female child increases a representative’s propensity to vote liberally on women’s issues, particularly reproductive rights. Such a voting pattern does not seem to be explained away by constituency preferences,
suggesting not only does parenting daughters affect preferences, but also that personal preferences affect legislative behavior.

bq. Consequently these results [suggest that] to the realm of environmental effects, such as peers and neighborhoods, … we should add offspring effects.Not only should we consider the impact that parents have on children’s attitudes and behavior, but we should consider that there may be reverse causality in the parental/child attitude relationship.

bq. A second contribution of this work is to the literature on congressional voting. This paper not only provides a robustness check on the finding that ideology impacts legislative voting, it also serves to identify an additional component of that ideology: child gender composition.