Andres Marroquin highlights a recent paper on his blog regarding the presence of sisters and its effect on political leanings and attitudes toward gender roles. The paper is clear, concise, seems statistically sound, and declares confidently that “having sisters causes young men to be substantially more likely to identify as Republicans and to express conservative viewpoints, particularly with regard to gender roles.”
In some ways, this outcome is counter intuitive. My initial thought was that having sisters should lead to a less rigid adherence to traditional gender roles because caring about one’s siblings means you would like them to be free to live their lives as they pleased, etc.
The paper does expand upon this more, but I don’t think it does a really good job of explaining the effect it actually finds. The result is not really that having a sister makes you more conservative, it’s rather likely that when boys have sisters and their parents reinforce typical gender roles by assigning gender-specific chores or other means, men are more conservative. It’s a more nuanced outcome and not as shocking, but it’s the more correct way to view it, I think. The paper is sold as a departure from the “parents influence children” literature and its contribution as “siblings influence each other,” but they don’t provide a clear mechanism for how the siblings actually influence each other outside of how the parents influence the children.
Statistically, having a sister might mean you are more conservative, but that doesn’t mean that boys with sisters will automatically be more conservative. There is still likely significant room for parental influence in establishing (or bucking) gender roles.