Young men with sisters are more likely to be Republicans, according to a new study by researchers from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Loyola Marymount University.
The research by Stanford’s Neil Malhotra and Loyola’s Andrew Healy indicates men who grew up with female siblings tend to be conservative in their views of gender throughout their lives, and more likely to vote Republican when they’re young than their male peers. One reason may be that they’re much less likely to share household chores with their sisters, an avoidance of housework that continues into adulthood.
Wait, what? Republican men don’t do dishes?
“Researchers have known that families have a strong influence on their children’s political ideas. But families are complicated, and it’s been hard to pinpoint how that socialization happens,” Malhotra said in a news release. “Our breakthrough is understanding that mechanism.”
Watching their sisters do the chores “teaches” boys that housework is simply women’s work, and that leads to a traditional view of gender roles — a position linked to a predilection for Republican politics, Healy and Malhotra claim. Boys with all sisters were 13.5 percent more conservative in their views of women’s roles than boys with all brothers.
When the boys with female siblings were seniors in high school, they were nearly 15 percent more likely to identify as Republicans, but as they grew into middle age, that effect diminished sharply. On the other hand, having sisters instead of brothers has no significant effect on girls, Healy and Malhotra found. Other researchers have found that people with traditional views on gender roles are 25 percent more politically conservative.
“These effects were surprising to us. We might expect that boys would learn to support gender equity through interactions with their sisters,” Healy said in the release. “However, the data suggest that other forces are more important in driving men’s political attitudes, including whether the family assigned chores, such as dishwashing, according to traditional gender roles.”
The researchers base their conclusions on an analysis of data gathered for two earlier studies: the University of Michigan Political Socialization Panel (PSP) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) young-adult sample.
Those studies followed thousands of U.S. families and individuals over an extended period, and probed for attitudes about gender and politics, as well as the inner workings of their households. The studies were conducted separately and at different times, but the findings were strikingly similar. Because the two studies point in the same direction, Malhotra said, he’s all the more confident that the conclusions he and Healy reached are valid.
The PSP study began in 1965 as a national sample of 1,669 students from 97 public and private schools, most of them high school seniors, and their parents. Subsequent surveys of the same individuals were conducted in 1973, 1982, and 1997; by the time of the last survey, the former students were about 50 years old.
The NLSY survey, conducted by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, included interviews with children as young as 10. They were asked if they regularly helped with straightening out their room, keeping the rest of the house clean, doing the dishes, and cooking. Over the years, questions about political views were added to the NLSY. When that data was correlated with that from the PSP, Healy and Malhotra concluded that “the gender stereotyping of the childhood environment thus may help to explain the effects that sisters have on male political attitudes.”
Their paper, “Childhood Socialization and Political Attitudes: Evidence from a Natural Experiment,” will be published in the October issue of the Journal of Politics.