A recent study by professors from the Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Loyola Marymount University (LMU) has found that men who grow up with only female siblings are more likely to hold conservative views of gender roles – and to vote Republican – later in life.
“This study suggests that family dynamics, in a way that we haven’t traditionally thought of them, could matter,” said Jennifer Lawless M.A ’00, PhD ’03, director of the Women’s & Politics Institute at American University.
According to LMU Associate Professor of Economics and study co-author Andrew Healy, the study reflected an effort to understand how childhood socialization affects long-term voting preferences.
“It’s interesting to understand what drives peoples’ political preferences,” Healy said.
Healy and Associate Professor of Political Economy Neil Malhotra M.A. ’05 Ph.D. ’08 aggregated data from two prior decades-long studies by the University of Michigan and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and found that men whose only siblings were sisters were 13.5 percent more conservative in their views of women’s roles than men who grew up in families with only brothers.
In such households, according to the researchers, an avoidance of household chores may reinforce a more conservative mindset and perspective on gender roles. The link between perceptions of gender roles and political alignment may be more tenuous, however, as women who grew up with predominantly female siblings did not exhibit more conservative tendencies.
Healy framed the findings as surprising, noting that they could be considered “a nice little cautionary tale about your own experiences influencing your expectations.”
“I grew up in a household with sisters and we all did equal chores, so I expected to see the opposite [of what our results showed],” Healy said.
Lawless suggested that further studies could better separate parents’ socialization of their children from siblings’ effects on each other, noting that men with sisters could have developed more conservative views because they saw their parents treat their sisters differently, among other reasons.
“It would be interesting to know if our findings are isolated to the cohorts we studied – people who were young men and women in the 1960s and 1980s, a time of greater gender inequality,” Malhotra said. “One would want to start collecting data on children today to study their political socialization to see if these sibling effects still occur today.”