Why does fatherhood make men more conservative?

Moms understand the benefits of the nanny-state. But dads, apparently, just don't get it

By Andrew Leonard
Published September 9, 2009 3:01PM (EDT)

So what is it, exactly, that makes fathers turn conservative?

From research presented by NC State professor Steven Greene and Dr. Laurel Elder of Hartwick College at the American Political Science Association's annual meeting, we learn that "Parenthood makes moms more liberal, dads more conservative."

Unfortunately, the summary from EurekAlert doesn't offer any theories as to why this might be so, but I think that with reader help, I can fill in the blanks.

The mom part is obvious. Since even in these supposedly progressive times, moms end up doing must of the child-rearing, they have an instant, intuitive grasp of the necessity of a strong welfare state. They naturally appreciate the advantages provided by state-funded day care and education, because without government, they'd be doing all of it. Moms generally take care of most of the kid's doctor and dentist appointments, so they also understand why comprehensive health care insurance is essential. They also knowthat leaving kids alone to organize their own anarcho-syndicalist communes where they can do whatever they want is a recipe for smashed crockery and peanut butter stains on the Persian carpets. Moms think libertarians are just silly. Moms provide most of the nannying -- of course they are pro nanny-state.

But dads? Why do dads get more conservative?

This is something of a puzzler. But I have a couple of theories.

  • Parenthood forces men to stop being children. They resent this, and project their resentment onto anything or anyone that tells them what to do. Therefore, they resent activist government.
  • Since, as noted earlier, moms still do most of the child-rearing, dads don't understand why government needs to step in to help people who can't take care of themselves. Don't those people have their own moms?
  • Dads learn pretty quickly that kids often don't do what you tell them to. Therefore they feel justified in adopting that same attitude of truculence towards the overbearing state.

What else?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Fatherhood How The World Works Liberalism Motherhood