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Men with sisters lean toward conservative politics, survey says

Where do political leanings come from? For men, some political beliefs may be the result of the presence of women in their home.

Several previous studies have linked daughters to fathers' increased interest in gender equality, feminism and even equal pay — a 2012 study of Danish business leaders found CEOs with daughters were more likely to pay their employees, particularly their female employees, larger wages. But according to a new study released this week, proximity to women doesn't guarantee liberal leanings. In fact, men with sisters may be more likely to consider themselves conservative.

The longitudinal study, produced by researchers from Loyola Marymount University and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, found men who grew up with sisters were nearly 15 percent more likely to identify themselves as Republicans by high school when compared to their peers without sisters.

The relationship seems related to the distribution of household chores. Neil Malhotra, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor of political economy at Stanford, said that in families with sisters, the sisters were more likely to be assigned a larger portion of chores than the boys in their family. Families with all boys tended to distribute chores more evenly.

The difference was especially pronounced with dishwashing. Of study participants, 60 percent of men were expected to help with the dishes while growing up compared to 82 percent of their sisters.

Watching their sisters do extra chores probably cemented concepts of traditional gender roles in men's mind while they grew up, Malhotra said.

“Originally, we thought that sisters would make men more liberal, because daughters make men more liberal,” Malhotra said. “What sisters do — they kind of structure the gender roles in the household.”

However, the effect of sisters hinged on the way chores were distributed. If chores were distributed equally, Malhotra said he wouldn't expect to see the same relationship identified in the study.

While upbringing is far from the only factor that develops political beliefs, it certainly plays an important role in the process, said Jeff Peterson, executive director of the Utah Republican Party.

“Certainly one of the biggest factors in shaping political affiliation is experience in the home,” Peterson wrote in an email. “My father who is Republican had no sisters, but he was taught conservative principles growing up. I have a great older sister who is very capable and talented, and she helped shape my personal outlook on life, but I would also say my parents raised us in a home centered around conservative values. “

The study's results also offer an interesting glimpse into historical attitudes about gender roles and family, Malhotra said. Malhotra and his co-author, Andrew Healy, contacted the study's participants — more than 1,500 high school students — in 1965, and continued to survey those same people over the course of several years. By the time of the last survey, the participants were about 50 years old.

Over time, as the participants went on to marry and have daughters of their own, their views on gender roles gradually drifted left, Malhotra said.

It is possible that a study started today, with current ideas about gender roles affecting family dynamics, could come out differently, Malhotra said. But he said the outcome does demonstrate how upbringing can affect a person's political views later in life.

“A lot of behavior you learn at an early age affects you later in life,” he said. “How a brother treats his sister is how he will treat his wife later on.”