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Being a father to a school-age girl makes men less sexist, new research suggests

The findings are based on a phenomenon known as the "Mighty Girl Effect."

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  • The study tracked the responses of more than 5,000 men over the course of a decade.
  • The results showed that men who lived with daughters were less likely to hold traditional views on gender relations and roles.
  • This effect seemed to be strongest as the daughters entered secondary-school age.

A new study suggests that being a father to a school-age girl causes men to hold less traditional views on gender roles and norms. This phenomenon, known as the "Mighty Girl Effect," describes the vicarious and empathetic learning that fathers undergo while witnessing the challenges their daughters face as they grow up.

The new study, published in the journal Oxford Economic Papers on December 14, tracked the responses of more than 5,000 men who rated their level of agreements with statements such as: "A husband's job is to earn money" and "A wife's job is to look after the home and family." This data was collected from responses to the British Household Panel Survey from 1991 to 2012.

The results showed that men who lived with daughters — including but not limited to stepdaughters, adopted daughters and foster daughters — were less likely to agree with traditional attitudes on gender norms and roles. This effect was most pronounced among fathers as their daughters entered secondary-school age, suggesting that men change their views over time.

"Parenting pre-school daughters is associated with a higher probability to behave traditionally," the authors wrote. "However, parenting primary and secondary school-age daughters is associated with a lower likelihood to follow a traditional male breadwinner norm in which the man works and the woman does not work, and this result holds both cross-sectionally and longitudinally."

Living with young girls gives men an up-close look at the female experience, Dr. Joan Costa-i-Font, co-author of the research from the London School of Economics, told The Guardian.

"They experience first-hand all the issues that [exist] in a female world and then that basically moderates their attitudes towards gender norms and they become closer to seeing the full picture from the female perspective," he said.

The researchers noted that no significant effects were observed among women or men who already held feminist views, and that they verified that their "results are not driven by unobserved individual heterogeneity, endogenous fertility stopping rules, reverse causality, or attrition from the estimation sample."

So, men should have more daughters?

Not exactly. As Paul Gompers, a professor at Harvard Business School who's conducted similar research, told HuffPost, the main idea behind studies like this is exposure.

"The more exposure we have to others who are different from us, the more we become debiased," he said. "Watching their struggles and issues, especially my 25-year-old [daughter] who is working in a venture backed enterprise software company in New York City has created insights that are certainly dependent upon having daughters."

Sexism in the U.S.

It's impossible to measure, to quantify, whether sexism is increasing in the U.S. However, what seems certain is that many people perceive it to be on the rise. A 2018 Pew survey shows that the share of Americans who considered sexism to be a "very big" problem in the country has risen by 11 percentage points compared to 2016.

The prevalence of sexism doesn't seem to be spread equally across the nation, however. A 2018 index of sexist attitudes in the U.S., which was compiled using national survey data similar to that used in the "mighty girl" study, suggests that sexism is highest in the Southeast and lowest in New England and the West Coast.

"The figure shows that there is substantial variation in mean sexism across states within each geographic region of the country," the researchers wrote.

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