Family Ties? The Limits of Fathering Daughters on Congressional Behavior

Published date01 May 2019
Date01 May 2019
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2019, Vol. 47(3) 471 –493
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X19826273
Family Ties? The Limits
of Fathering Daughters
on Congressional
Mia Costa1, Jill S. Greenlee2, Tatishe Nteta3,
Jesse H. Rhodes3, and Elizabeth A. Sharrow3
Scholars have long suggested that familial life can affect political behavior and,
more recently, have found that fathering daughters leads men to adopt more
liberal positions on gender equality policies. However, few have focused on
the impact of fathering a daughter on congressional behavior, particularly
in an era of heightened partisan polarization. Using an original data set of
familial information, we examine whether fathering a daughter influences
male legislators’ (a) roll call and cosponsorship support for women’s issues
in the 110th to 114th Congresses and (b) cosponsorship of bills introduced
by female legislators in the 110th Congress. We find that once party
affiliation is taken into account, having a daughter neither predicts support
for women’s issues nor cosponsorship of bills sponsored by women. Our
findings suggest there are limits to the direct effects of parenting daughters
on men’s political behavior, and that scholars should remain attentive to
institutional and partisan contexts.
Congress, cosponsorship, parenthood, gender, legislative behavior
1Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA
2Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA
3University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mia Costa, Dartmouth College, Silsby Hall, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.
826273APRXXX10.1177/1532673X19826273American Politics ResearchCosta et al.
472 American Politics Research 47(3)
Sociologists and political scientists have long argued that family life influ-
ences political attitudes and behaviors (see, e.g., Elder & Greene, 2012;
Glass, Bengtson, & Dunham, 1986; Green, Palmquist, & Schickler, 2002;
Greenlee, 2014; Hellwege & Bryant, 2017). Although these studies are
focused primarily on the influence of familial dynamics on the political
behavior of the mass public, Ebonya Washingon (2008) sought to extend
these insights to the study of congressional behavior. In her article, “Female
Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on
Women’s Issues,” she suggests that previous studies of the behavior of mem-
bers of Congress omitted an important explanatory variable from their analy-
ses: the gender of representatives’ children. Washington argued that, by
increasing sympathy for women’s issues and gender inequality, the experi-
ence of parenting daughters would lead legislators to adopt more liberal atti-
tudes. Using roll call data from the 105th to the 108th Congresses, Washington
found that as the number of daughters fathered by a representative increased,
the likelihood that the representative supported bills favorable to women’s
interests, particularly those concerning reproductive rights, also increased.
Washington’s finding stimulated a new area of research regarding the influ-
ence of fathering daughters on the behavior of other male elites, such as
judges (Glynn & Sen, 2015) and corporate executives (Cronqvist & Yu, 2017;
M. Dahl, Dezső, & Ross, 2012).
Yet, in the years since Washington’s study, much has changed within the
institution of Congress. Most notably, party leaders, with the support of activ-
ists and affiliated interest groups, increasingly control the behavior of rank
and file members through the strategic use of their agenda setting powers,
committee assignments, staffing decisions, and campaign contributions
(Aldrich, 1995; Binder, 1997; Cox & McCubbins, 1993, 2005; LaRaja &
Schaffner, 2015; Pearson, 2015; Rohde, 1991; Theriault, 2008). Members of
Congress have relatively little latitude to deviate from the directives of party
leaders, and such pressures are thought to help explain rising partisan polar-
ization in congressional policy making (Layman, Carsey, & Horowitz, 2006;
Schaffner, 2011; Theriault, 2008). Given the dramatic increase of partisan
polarization in Congress (for a review see Schaffner, 2011), does fathering a
daughter continue to exert a discernable effect on the behavior of male
In this article, we build on Washington’s research by examining the impact
of fatherhood of daughters on both male legislators’ support (via roll call vot-
ing and cosponsorship) for issues of import to women and their willingness
to cosponsor legislation introduced by female members. Using data from the
110th to the 114th Congress, we find that once party affiliation is taken into
account, fathering a daughter predicts neither support for gendered policies

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