Recently, in commemoration of Women’s Equality Day, two-time NBA MVP and three-time NBA champion Stephen Curry wrote an op-ed in The Players’ Tribune entitled “This is Personal.” In the article, Curry spoke of the ways in which his upbringing by his mother Sonya Curry and his marriage to Ayesha Curry influenced his perspective on the matter of gender equality. Curry added that the birth of his daughters, Riley and Ryan, helped him appreciate more fully the plight of women in our society. He wrote that he and his wife now see the world “through the eyes of these daughters of ours, who we brought into this world, and now are raising to live in this world.” Curry concluded that his experience as a father of a daughter meant that “the idea of women’s equality has become a little more personal for me, lately, and a little more real.”
Our own research published at Public Opinion Quarterly confirms Curry’s view, showing that men who have a daughter as their first child are more supportive of policies to promote gender equality – including Title IX — than are those who have a son first.
The Impact of Daughters on Men’s Gender Equality Attitudes
Curry’s recent statement places him among the ranks of high-profile men suggesting that the experience of fathering daughters has led to more progressive views on gender equality issues (see here, here, and here). But scholars remain divided on this question. Some have argued that the experience of having a daughter leads men to more strongly identify with the Republican Party and to adopt more conservative positions on gender-related issues, including abortion, teen sex, and affirmative action (see here, here, and here). Other scholars conclude that fathers with daughters exhibit more liberal attitudes on a range of gender issues and support left-wing political parties (see here and here). Finally, a recent work finds no significant effect of having a daughter on men’s gender role attitudes (see here).
How We Did our Research
Following decades of research in political science (see here and here), we theorized that having a daughter as a man’s first child is a critical event in the political socialization of men. Much as Stephen Curry has suggested, we argue that the experience of “first daughterhood” leads men to reassess their pre-existing gender attitudes and express higher levels of support for gender equality policies. To test our hypothesis, we designed an original survey of American fathers embedded in the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES).
Critically, for each father in our sample, we ascertained the gender and birth order of each child. Next, we gauged their support for a variety of gender equality policies including Title IX, enhanced workplace sexual harassment enforcement policies, and policies that ensure parity in pay for men and women.
We also asked questions that measured many other important variables, including fathers’ partisanship, ideology, education, age, religiosity, marital status, support for traditional gender roles, and sexist attitudes. By controlling for this information in our quantitative analyses, we were able to more precisely estimate the effect of having a daughter (as opposed to a son) as a first child on attitudes toward policies to promote sex equality.
What We Found
As shown in the figure below, fathers of first daughters expressed greater support for Title IX, enhanced enforcement of sexual harassment, and gender pay equity when compared to fathers of first sons. On average, men with first daughters exhibited greater support for gender equality policies by a margin of five percentage points.
To further explore the connection between fathering first daughters and support for gender equality policies, we estimated a statistical model that included our measure of first daughterhood and controlled for the factors listed above. We found that whether a father has a first daughter is among the most important factors accounting for men’s support for these policies and that fathers with first daughters are 11 percent more likely than fathers with first sons to express support for an index of gender-equality policies. We also consistently found that neither the experience of simply having a daughter in the family nor the proportion of daughters in the family had an effect on fathers’ support for gender equality policies.
Importantly, the first daughter effect is unique to fathers; we do not find that the experience of having a daughter as a first child influences mothers’ attitudes. Additionally, we uncover similar effects among Democratic and Republican fathers, fathers with young and older daughters, and fathers who had their first daughter before and after the passage of Title IX.
Taken together, our results suggest that a key issue in existing studies of the impact of daughters is the inability of these studies to distinguish fathers of first daughters from fathers of daughters more generally. In short, Curry – the father of a first daughter – is speaking for many other men when he says that he thinks differently about gender inequality because he now walks through the world with a daughter. Being the father of a first daughter does indeed lead him to see the world through his daughter’s eyes.
Elizabeth Sharrow (@e_sharrow) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research explores the politics of Title IX and includes a book manuscript on the political history of sex equity policy.
Tatishe M. Nteta (@TatisheNteta) is Associate Professor in the Political Science Department and former Family Research Scholar at the Center for Research on Families at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Jill Greenlee (@greenlee_jill) is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Program at Brandeis University.
Jesse Rhodes (@JesseRhodesPS) is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.