Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What Makes Ross Douthat Happy?

That would be finding research results which reinforce his own views.  Don't we all like those findings?  But some of us have a bigger pulpit to popularize the ones they like.  For instance, Ross Douthat does.

This time he uses that persuasion pulpit to tell us not only that he was so pleased to find a study which matches his opinions but also this:

Or the pleasure that I took recently from the headline: “Study: Having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican.”
Why pleasure? Well, because previous research on this question had suggested the reverse, with parents of daughters leaning left and parents of sons rightward. And those earlier findings dovetailed neatly with liberal talking points about politics and gender: Republicans make war on women, Democrats protect them, so it’s only natural that raising girls would make parents see the wisdom of liberalism ...
But the new study undercuts those talking points. Things are more complicated than you thought, liberals! You can love your daughters, want the best for them, and find yourself drawn to ... conservative ideas! Especially if you’re highly educated, which is where the effect was strongest! Better dust off a different set of talking points — maybe something about the family as the source of all oppression and how deeply internalized patriarchal norms make parents subconsciously inclined to tyrannize their female offspring and then we can argue about that!

The study he mentions here is worth a post on its own, because although its conclusions are those Douthat loves (though a lot messier), the study is not really about what he thinks it is about (love of the daughters as persons).  All that will be covered in a later post right here on this popular blog.  But for the time being it suffices to point out that other studies have found the exact reverse of this study (which uses data collected in 1994*), even quite recently, though not for the US which appears to have no other data on this, and  I'm pretty sure that Douthat didn't popularize those studies.  Because he didn't like their findings.

This aspect of popularizing research is in itself under-researched and popularized.  Guys like Douthat and Brooks, both with Big Pulpits, never popularize a study that goes against their beliefs.  The New York Times should really hire the same number of liberal people to talk about all the studies out there.  And the same goes for all the other newspapers and websites.  If we are going to have bias of this kind, let's have the reverse bias, too.

Where was I?  Oh, Douthat's theory.  This is what he believes explains the findings:  Young (heterosexual) men want all the sex they can get and don't want commitment.  Young (heterosexual) women have a limited fertility window and need commitment earlier. Young men can wait.  The breakdown of traditional morality has made it possible for young men to get all the sex they want without commitment.

This is not good for young women, Douthat believes.  Women should sell sex (yes, that's what demanding commitment for some nookie means) only in exchange for a promise of marriage and support for the future children.  Thus, Douthat believes in the sexual goal-keeping by women as the best solution of how to fix that sexual ice-hockey game where some men are always on the attack and if you leave the goal without the goalie, well, they will score and skate away.  In Douthat's world, all the female players are goalies.

That last paragraph is my interpretation of what Douthat writes.  But that's what he means:

"Traditional" sexual morality means that women must be sexual gate-keepers.  Men can do whatever they wish because their drives are natural and ignored in the Republican telling of the tale.

Because the Republican Party is for banning abortion, discouraging contraception and in general attacking the idea that young women might have sex outside marriage without getting pregnant, that is the best party for anxious parents who have daughters!  The Republican policies raise the cost of extramarital sex for women.

All this is why some educated parents would turn Republican when they have daughters.  I guess the reverse explanation would work for the corresponding finding in the study that some parents seem to turn Democratic when they have sons (or when their first child is a son**):  The parents want their sons out there scattering their seed widely, without any commitments.

But the two parties differ in many other ways, too.  An obvious difference is in the focus on law-and-order, say.

What does the Republican Party do to bring back "traditional" sexual morality?  I see Purity Balls, mostly for daughters, where the daughter agrees to be a virgin until marriage.  I see "courting." based on parental permission among the extreme fringe of that party.  I see no focus on changing the behavior of young men. I see strong attempts to ban abortion altogether and some attempts to reduce women's access to contraceptives. And I have read many, many Republican pundits warning young women of their soon-withering ovaries and telling female college undergraduates that they would really be better off if more of them gave their college places to men because that way they could marry.

Indeed, the Republican Party is a busy beaver when it comes to various plans to restrict the lives of women.  Whether that goes under protection depends on how you regard the pretty much complete absence of anything which would discourage those men from predatory behavior who wish to engage in it.  But in any case, the study Douthat leans on didn't argue for that particular explanation.

To put this particular study into a wider framework, another study found that boys who have sisters are more likely to become Republicans than boys who don't.  I haven't looked at that particular study (only so many hours in a day even for goddesses), but this write-up gives rather different reasons for that finding:
So why are boys with sisters more inclined to identify with the GOP as young men? Researchers have found that sisters are more likely than their brothers to help wash the dishes, sweep the floor and do other traditionally gender-stereotyped tasks around the house.  For example, in the data they examined, about 60% of boys but 82% of girls 10 and older with younger siblings told interviewers they were expected to help with the dishes. 
This early exposure to gender stereotyping, the researchers argue, translates into more socially conservative views in later life.
It's unlikely that the same explanation would apply to parents whose first child is a daughter, say, or so I fervently hope.  What could explain that (if an explanation is needed) remains a mystery, I believe***.  But note that all of Douthat's talk about daughters can be reversed for sons, because what we are looking at here is a difference in political affiliation based on the sex of the first child or the mix of children. The authors of the study Douthat uses chose to look at daughters, but the treatment could easily be reversed.  Then the study would be about what makes parents of sons more likely to choose the Democratic label.   Think how Douthat would explain that.

*This data set appears to be the only US one which asked questions both about the sex and birth order of children and about the parent's political views.  That can be problematic in two ways:  First, it would be good to see data from different sources before making permanent conclusions, just in case this particular data set is a fluke, caused by bad sampling luck.  Second, the two parties were not what they are today in 1994, though that date is close to the start of the Republican Party as the American Taliban.
**Or rather, the study argues, for example,  that in 1994 a higher percentage of parents declared their party affiliation Democratic when their first child was a son and a higher percentage of parents declared their party affiliation Republican when their first child was a daughter.

***My top two guesses are a) bad luck in sampling (more about that in the next post) and b) the law-and-order hypothesis:  Having daughters might make parents more likely to worry about crime (rape etc.), having sons would not have that effect.  The Republican Party is seen as the law-and-order party.  The sexual protection motive is not impossible, of course, only the Republican Party does nothing to keep the foxes away from the chicken-coop, but just argues for a stronger coop.  Then there is the whole question how people thought about the two parties in 1994 and what they stood for then.