Many people have strong opinions about sex, reproductive rights, and gender roles, and those seem to differ by demographics like gender, age, and socioeconomic status. A study published in Evolutionary Human Sciences suggests that having more male offspring of reproductive age can also have a big effect — specifically on increased conservative views.
Conservative views on sex and reproduction largely limit women’s freedom, such as anti-abortion. These views are held primarily by men to further benefit themselves. There is evidence that additionally, people want what is best for their children. Parents of daughters tend to support feminism and gender equality more than parents of only sons.
This fits in with the idea of gendered fitness interests (GFI), which says that an individual’s genetic fitness is due to the reproductive success of their living relatives. Gendered fitness interests have been shown to predict social attitudes in previous research, but not for views on gender-related issues and conservatism, which this study seeks to do.
Nicholas Kerry and colleagues utilized 560 participants recruited through MTurk who ranged in age from 18 to 72 years old. Gendered fitness interest values were calculated for each participant, taking into account their own age and the ages of all their children, grandchildren, and siblings. Participants also reported cousins and nieces/nephews, but ages were assumed. Additionally, participants completed measures on gender-related conservatism, conformity, and voting habits.
Results showed that as hypothesized, participants with male-biased GFI endorsed more conservative attitudes about gender-related topics. This was relevant to both their own sex and the sex of their descendants, suggesting that their own interests and the interests of their offspring guide their views. The results were not significant for non-descendant relatives, such as siblings or cousins.
GFI was also related to conformity and political party association, but both relationships were mediated by gender-relevant conservatism. Male biased GFI was also related to conforming to traditional gender roles, which is consistent due to traditional gender roles benefitting males. Overall, these results emphasize that gender is a variable in decision-making, not just for one’s self but for one’s offspring.
This study took strides in understanding the more nuanced and complex relationships between gender and conservatism. Despite this, it has limitations. The ages of close relatives were measured in groups, rather than individual integers, which could lessen the accuracy. Additionally, for nieces/nephews and cousins, the age was approximated based on the participants age, which is not always relevant or accurate.
“The data here suggest that GFI is a stronger and more robust predictor of conservative gender attitudes than previous measures, and that GFI may influence more general attitudes related to conformity,” the researchers concluded. “While further research is necessary to more properly understand the nature of causal relationships and the mechanisms involved, the results presented here suggest that just as one’s own gender is a predictor of sociopolitical attitudes, so too is the gender of one’s descendants.”
The study, “Male descendant kin promote conservative views on gender issues and conformity to traditional norms“, was authored by Nicholas Kerry, Khandis R. Blake, Damian R. Murray, and Robert C. Brooks.