Fathers and Daughters

I haven’t blogged for a while, because since the death of my father in early March, my mood did not hold much space for light thoughts. Approaching Father’s Day however reminds me that he would want me to continue, and it feels like an appropriate occasion to pick up the plume.

My father was a conservative man, socially and politically, but one theme where he overtook the liberals in their own lane was women’s empowerment. From the time I was able to witness, he supported rising and powerful women. Thatcher in the 80s – at least until she started the Falkland war;  Madeleine Albright in the 90s; respect for Bhenazir Bhutto and Corazon Aquino as well as several business leaders. A vivid memory I retain is his regularly handing me newspaper articles about powerful women. “Couldn’t you do this?” Talking about Christine Bortenlaenger, who started running the Munich stock exchange at 33, or the then popular French PM Edith Cresson. Already in the new millenium, Merkel becoming chancellor was acknowledged like confirmed expectations.

What explains this progressive view, among many others he held which were rather proudly pre-Renaissance? Being raised by a war widow that needed to brave adversity may be one reason. But having a daughter may be another.

Fathers of daughters are pro-woman, in about everything

Diligent economists have shown that fathers of daughters show greater support for gender equity. US Congressmen vote more pro-woman on relevant issues, if they have daughters; and even more so if they have more daughters. Federal judges with more daughters decide more liberally on women’s issues and this effect comes, wait for it, mostly from Republican judges. (Dad, you would’ve been right at home there.)

Parenting more daughters leads to an increased propensity to hire female partners by venture capital firms. There is a 24% increase in the probability of hiring a senior female investor when a son is replaced with a daughter for the existing partners in a firm.  –  Did I mention that my boss is the proud father of three daughters?

Fathers of daughters invest better

Those senior partners I was talking about, who hire more women because they have daughters; they also invest better. The piece of research I mentioned earlier shows that improved gender diversity in the firm, induced by parenting more daughters, improves deal and fund performances. This comes mostly from the daughters of senior partners rather than junior partners (which does not surprise me, because the senior partners have more influence).

Let’s think about this for a while. There is no proof here that an imposed gender quota improves performance; but partners that hire more women because they have daughters will find their teams are more successful. Partners whose fundamental world view is women friendly, and who act accordingly, perform well. In other words: partners who likely had any possible gender biases radically removed by having a daughter, make better deals.

It makes perfect sense, really. If you are capable of taking an unbiased look at investments and other decisions, you will make better ones. Including in hiring.

It all started when countries became richer and families had fewer children

The emergence of women’s empowerment, as well as of men who supported it, has a history. Two century long trends have been shown to bring this about. First, countries became richer and individuals accumulated more capital. Second, family planning became easier. These two count on a third trend, which is crucial in making family planning popular: spreading education.

How does this mix to become a soup? Consider property rights. If they are biased towards husbands versus wives, husbands gain. But only insofar as they don’t have daughters who will lose out in future to their husbands, based on the same biased rights. With family planning, there will be more families that only have daughters, and no sons. So there will be some men who will suffer a lot seeing their daughters suffer. At the same time, with the rising wealth, more and more men will reach a level of economic security that enables them to take risks.

At some level of average wealth and average family size, the scale tips and men would want to change the property laws to benefit their daughters more. The scale tips the earlier, the more biased the current property rights system. So, historically, it tipped earlier in common law countries than civil law countries.

This kind of explanation would have fascinated my history teaching dad. Sadly, we did not have a chance to discuss it. But if we did, he would have pointed out that while most laws are already changed towards equity, the power balances are not.