You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Creepy Reason That Having a Daughter Makes Men More Conservative

Image via shutterstock

Pew recently released a study saying that having a daughter makes men more conservative. It followed the release of another Pew study that shows a sister has the same effect on men. Why, you ask?

Researchers have found that sisters are more likely than their brothers to help wash the dishes, sweep the floor and do other traditionally gender-stereotyped tasks around the house.  For example, in the data they examined, about 60% of boys but 82% of girls 10 and older with younger siblings told interviewers they were expected to help with the dishes. This early exposure to gender stereotyping, the researchers argue, translates into more socially conservative views in later life. [Italics Mine]

This should make conservatives wince a little bit, or so I would have thought. As would the more recent study about daughters. But apparently not. In The New York Times on Sunday, Ross Douthat writes that the study gave him "pleasure" (he does mention this in slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion), and then proceeds to say that it disproves the following line of thinking: "Republicans make war on women, Democrats protect them, so it’s only natural that raising girls would make parents see the wisdom of liberalism."

Studies like this may be a Rorschach Test, but when I saw the headline I thought the opposite. How to phrase this gently? The impulses behind social conservatism often stem from a desire to control the sex lives of women. (It is surely not a coincidence that nearly every conservative religious tradition places a disturbing amount of emphasis on women's sexuality.) And we know that the thought of one's precious daughter having sex is enough to cause nonsense from even liberal men like President Obama. (His joke about using drones against possible suitors was a true low.) So it's no surprise that having a girl around, one who MUST be protected, would spark conservative thinking. 

Given that this analysis doesn't exactly make conservatives look great, I would have expected Douthat to argue against it. Instead he essentially argues that too many men today (especially those in Brooklyn) are immature and sex-hungry, and that women have shorter windows in which to have children. He mentions the Adelle Waldman novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. and focuses on the main character, whose chief desire appears to be sex. Douthat holds the character up as just the type of man that worries parents, and thus leads to social conservatism. Douthat describes this parental worrying as being about a daughter's future rather than her sex life, but the emphasis is on the sex-hungry men.

In short, we are back to sex, and the need to protect women from it. This certainly makes sense as an explanation of men fretting over their daughters' dates and moving rightward, but it isn't exactly worth bragging about.