Kids and Congress

Ebonya Washington, an economist at Yale, has a great paper that was just published in the American Economic Review called “Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues.”

She looks at members in the House of Representatives and looks to see whether their voting patterns change. She provides interesting evidence that, “conditional on total number of children, each daughter increases a congress person’s propensity to vote liberally on reproductive rights issues.”

For example, looking at representatives with two children, she finds that N.O.W. (National Organization for Women) scores increase as the number of daughters increases:

Kids and Congress

Her regressions suggest that the effect runs primarily through the impact of daughters on fathers. Representatives who are mothers apparently don’t need any more “female socialization.”

This article got me to thinking about whether having kids impacts the electability of candidates.

Akhil Amar taught me that George Washington was father of our country in part because he was not a father.

The founders were worried that a president might try to install his son as a successor. Because George and Martha had no children, this was not a risk.

Indeed, David McCullough says that Thomas Jefferson‘s supporters made a similar argument in the run up to the 1796 election against John Adams. Adams posed more of a dynastic risk because of the incredibly accomplished John Quincy — while Jefferson had no legitimate sons to illegitimately favor.

The question arises, however, whether having or not having kids impacts electability today.

I don’t think that dynastic risk is a large concern — but there are other possibilities. One of the wonderful things about the A.E.R.’s new data sharing policy is that it’s possible in just a few clicks to download Professor Washington’s data and answer some basic questions.

To begin, who has more kids — Democrats or Republicans? By a fairly large margin (2.70 vs. 2.16 average kids per member), the answer is Republicans.

But here’s a tougher question: Who has more kids — male or female members of the House?

There are lots of stories you could tell here. Professional women tend to have fewer kids than professional men (probably because a disproportionate burden of child rearing still falls upon them). But a counter hypothesis is that voters demand that women politicians have more kids (than they demand of male politicians).

Voters might demand that women politicians have more kids to prove that they are “real women” or that they will care about family issues. (To suggest that this is a possible voter preference is not to suggest that it is normatively attractive!) If the latter hypothesis is true, Chelsea Clinton‘s status as a single child may impose greater political costs on her mother than it did on her father.

In the house, it turns out that both hypotheses have some support. Among Republican members, women have more kids than men have (with mean number of kids at 2.82 vs. 2.69). But among Democrats who are members, women have fewer kids (with means of 2.05 for female Democrats vs. 2.19 for male Democrats).

Let me emphasize that these are just cross tabs and I’m not claiming anything close to causality here. But Professor Washington’s data at least begins a conversation about whether procreation impacts who is elected as well as how elected officials will vote.



I think men who have daughters might want the best for them, and so may be slightly more likely to think of women as independent, thinking human beings who might deserve the same freedoms and rights of self-determination that they desire for themselves, rather than the subjects of draconian controls.

female student

To Joel:

You recommended that I look at history, such as the women's suffrage movement?

Ok, In 1896, Republicans were the first major party to favor women's suffrage. When the 19th Amendment finally was added to the Constitution, 26 of 36 state legislatures that had voted to ratify it were under Republican control. Guess which party's members were more likely to actively oppose it?

How about equal rights? The Republican party largely FORMED around opposition to slavery, while the Democrats from your beloved South were still fighting to own people. Same concept when it came to equal voting rights.

And the "Equal rights" ammendment? Another Democratic ploy to once again get government involved in private decisions.
It is a 3 step process for Democrats: 1) Let's make sure only rich people can choose their schools, and that poor, minority children remain under-educated in no-choice institutions 2) Let's fight to graduate them before they've attained enough knowledge 3) Let's make sure that they are still dependent on us liberal Democrats through our "progressive" affirmative action and equal rights (read: forced to hire) laws. Thus what results is a fabulous plan for making sure that women and minorities are always dependent on you, but never actually more educated or more qualified than you.

It will only last for so long.



Hilarious. Though we already knew Dick Cheney is a lesbian.

'The "Southern Democrats" that voted against the ERA are Republicans today.'
Aka,"I didn't leave the the Democrat[sic] Party - the Democrat Party left me."

From the mouth of The Coultergeist itself, "If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president."


I guess the men with the daughters start to like abortion more and more because they think they'd like their daughters to have one?

Or. . .they wish they'd aborted their daughters. So abortion rights become more precious to them.

Ugly either way, in my opinion.


Female Student:

I'm not exactly sure how you would qualify "balance families and careers", but here are some numbers to think about before you reach any conclusion about which party truly "empowers" women:

13 women serve in the U.S. Senate
10 Democrats (77%) and 3 Republicans (23%)

61 women hold seats in the House of Representatives.
43 Democrats (70%)and 18 Republicans (30%)

(That's a total of 53 of 74 women in congress who are Democrats...or 72%)

In North Carolina where I live, on my Democratic Primary ballot I will have a woman running for President (Hillary Clinton), Governor (Bev Perdue), and US Senate (Kay Hagen)...not to mention a host of other Democratic women running for state and local office. The Republican ballot does not even compare.

I'm not sure what exactly you are studying as a "student", but you should look into the woman suffrage movement, the Equal Rights Amendment, etc. if you want to understand partisan politics re: the "empowerment" of women.

Give me a break.


Another Joel

I'm glad that you brought up the Republicans' role in ushering in Women's Suffrage, female student. In these dynamic times, its good to know that someone is making sure we remember relevant events from early in the last century.


Female Student:

Roughly 85% of congressional democrats voted FOR the ERA, while only 30% of congressional republicans voted in favor.

The "Southern Democrats" that voted against the ERA are Republicans today.

female student

I think that for all the Democrats' talk about empowering women to have family and careers, it is clearly the Republican women in congress who are most likely to effectively balance families and careers.


I understand there is a limited sample size; however, in order to draw a sound statistical conclusion shouldn't the sample size be at least 30? There are two groups where N30. How do the averages, Rho, and conclusion stand to up scrutiny?

Lauren Bishop

I don't think fathers want their daughters to have abortions. Few people, pro-choice or not, want their daughters (friends, sisters, wives) to have abortions. And I surely hope they don't wish they'd have aborted their daughters because that's biologically impossible.

I think men who have daughters are able to understand that women need to have control over their reproductive health. They would want their daughters to have options if they were to face dealing with unplanned pregnancy.


A sample of seventy for each party? Are you kidding me? It shouldn't be too figure out how many daughters almost every one of the current (and probably many former) members of Congress have, so I have no idea why or how she chose her sample. I'm not accusing her of rigging the data, but I can't find any reason why she chose so few members.

As it is, the some of the bars represent as few as eleven members. Surely a Yale economist can do better than a 30% confidence interval. As it is, those numbers are so fuzzy as to be meaningless.


Female Student,

Looking at the Republicans' history on human rights is misleading in terms of present day Republicans. After all, a great many Republicans of today were Dixiecrats in the 50's and 60's when the Southern Democrats were the party of racism. While we can all learn a great deal from history, the first thing we should learn is that everything changes.
Today the Republicans harbor most of the racists, bigots, and haters of the US, even if the official party line disagrees.


Matt, the sample sizes of 70 and 68 are for "Representatives with two children". There are more than 138 Congressmen, but there might only be 138 with exactly two children, in which case this might just be an attempt to rule out family size as a confounding variable.


Republican women are clearly more likely to have large families with crazy names- look at Gov. Palin of Alaska: Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. Who says that Hollywood liberals are the ones who give their kids strange names?


Wouldn't it have been a stronger experiment if she had looked at congressmen's voting records before and after giving birth to a girl and compared that...?


I saw fathers raised in the 1930's become advocates for women's equal employment when their daughters had difficulty entering professions in the 19970's. The daughters' expectations (and hopes) changed their fathers' attitudes. I don't want my daughter to have an abortion but I don't want George Bush or Pat Robertson deciding for her.


I would think the issue of men with daughters being more liberally minded towards women would also extend to people who have a gay family member. I saw this happen in my own family when a cousin of mine came out of the closet a few years ago. The more vehement anti-gay conservative members of my family had to face the ugly truth that someone they cared about could be one of "them". Worse he's a good guy who wants the same things everyone else does life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I was shocked at how quickly the transformation happened. One day they all ought to be rounded up and shipped to some remote island and the next day they should be allowed to get married and of course people are born gay, hell you'd have to be blind not to see the fact that this boy has been gay all his life he never was like the other boys.