How Gender Stereotypes in the Home Influence Political Affiliation
Boys who grow up with sisters are more likely to join the Republican party later in life, according to a study published in 2020 in The Journal of Politics. Economist Andrew Healy of Loyola Marymount University and Stanford political economist Neil Malhotra conducted a statistical analysis using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth’s Children and Young Adults, which surveyed 3,000 people
in their early 20s and 30s in 2006, and again in 2008.
The researchers found that boys raised with sisters are more likely to hold socially conservatives views of gender roles later in life, which many of them express in their politics via affiliation with the Republican party. In addition to finding a significant positive relationship between a boy having a sister and being a Republican later in life, Healy and Malhotra also found that the likelihood of choosing this political affiliation increases along with the percentage of siblings who are sisters. So, the more girl-heavy a household, the more likely a boy will grow up to be a Republican.
Boys with sisters are also slightly more likely to believe that a “woman’s place is in the home.” Interestingly, the researchers also found that “the sibling gender effect is stronger for respondents who are close to their siblings in age and somewhat stronger for first-born respondents.”
Healy and Malhotra found similar trends within an older data
panel from the University of Michigan’s Political Socialization Panel study conducted between 1965 and 1997. This data showed that while the effect of girl siblings on a man’s political affiliation declined over time (it was insignificant from mid-to-late 40s on), the effect on socially conservative views of gender roles persisted. On the flip side, gender of one’s siblings has absolutely no effect on the later life political affiliation of girls.
So, why does having sisters increase the likelihood that a boy will be a Republican in his young adult life? It seems the way gender stereotypes influence parental socialization of children has a lot to do with it. The researchers point out that data show that of children ten years of age and older, 82 percent of girls say they are expected to help with dishes, but only 60 percent of boys claim this. So, when boys see girls doing household labor, and the parental expectations that they also do this work are not equal, they are effectively taught ideas about appropriate behavior and roles based on gender, and these grow into socially conservative views. Though parents might not realize the impact gender stereotypes have on their interactions with their children, and they may not even believe in the notion that a “woman’s place is in the home,” their behavior toward their children can transmit this idea, and shape that child’s development.
Research has shown that a “hidden curriculum” of stereotypical gender roles exists in the educational institution too. Sociologist C.J. Pascoe found in her study of how sexuality and gender take shape during high school that teachers and school administrators regularly use heteronormative gender stereotypes to teach lessons and to regulate student behavior on campus. She also found that school rituals like pep rallies and dances serve to transmit these same norms and values, which shape the development of students’ sexual and gender identities.
So, parents and future parents, bear in mind that something seemingly as trivial of how you parse household labor among your kids can have lasting consequences on the political fabric of our nation. Yikes.