By Gabriella El-Chamaa
Popular reporting on the paper ‘Daughters and Divorce’ blame daughters for increased chances of divorce, whilst ignoring the gender biases of parents who can’t agree on raising their girls like they do their boys.
On the 6th of February, The Economist published an article evaluating the work of Jan Kabatek and David Ribar, titled “Daughters and Divorce” in the USA and Netherlands. They found that couples, where their oldest child is female, were more likely, by a probability of 1.8%, to divorce by the time the daughter turns 18. The only exception, to what The Economist referred to as the “daughter effect”, are those where the father had grown up with a female sibling (b).
The irony of the article produced by The Economist is that divorce closely ties in with women’s rights to autonomy and yet, the article cited that the most common cause of parents arguing when their oldest child is a girl is regarding “how much they should control their teenagers’ personal choices, such as how they dress”.
Has no one stopped to ask the question: Why do parents need to control their girls more than their boys?
It is often the perception that women have a significantly higher risk of being the victim of violent crimes, but this contradicts what the Bureau of Justice reported in 2019. They found that in 2018 men carried out 77% of violent crimes, whilst they accounted for 46.6% of the victims. Therefore, as the threat of violence is almost equal between men and women (a), it begs the question,
Why aren’t parents arguing over controlling their sons who are more likely to be violent than women are likely to be victims?
If concerns for the teenage girls’ wellbeing results in the need for control, then why would any parent let their daughter in a car? I mean, in a crash, that is statistically more likely to be caused by men, women are “47% more likely to be seriously injured and 71% more likely to be moderately injured”. However, most parents wouldn’t be able to cite these and other harrowing figures where the woman’s safety is compromised, as a result of the androcentric design of technological advancements in the USA. This is most likely because these statistics do not threaten gender-based values and the traditional family values of the Post-Regan era.
Divorce is hard enough for people to go through, especially during a pivotal period of a child’s development during their teenage years.
Looking for the cause of divorce should not be so focused on the children.
However, rather than elaborate on Kabatek and Ribar’s findings of the differences in divorce rates relating to the parents’ “attitudes towards gender-roles”, The Economist decided to appease the 70% of their subscribers who, as of 2018, were male. As a result, The Economists article consisted of quotes such as “teenage daughters and fathers, in particular, get on each other’s nerves” as if this were a concrete and helpful fact. It is important that we look at why couples are more likely to divorce where their oldest child is a girl, but from the perspective of the social constructs in place that make it difficult for the parents.
We should be asking if divorce rates are higher where parents view their oldest daughters differently to how they view their oldest sons, and how this could be changed.
That would be beneficial to tackling the skew in results of the research as they stand, instead of reinforcing the notion that having children who are girls is less desirable.
If the parents were married before their children hit their teenage years, it is easy to link the two when that is likely to be the biggest change in a marriage. However, we should be asking: What factors are not considered before parents have their children? Did they agree on how to raise their children before having them? Are they good enough communicators to be able to resolve conflict? Do both parents see both genders as equal? I am sure the answers to these questions would be more beneficial than blaming the first child for being a girl.
I do sincerely hope that we begin asking the right questions when looking at divorce rates. It is important that parents are prepared to raise children with an aligned strategy that is the same for both their boys and girls, instead of looking to the children to blame for a failed marriage (c).
a. This is no means diminishes the requirement to tackle gender-based violence or ignores the 3.4% difference, however it is important to recognise that what needs to change is not controlling women, but addressing the disproportionate number of men who make up the majority of violent perpetrators.
b. The tests were done in the hetero-normative perspective and therefore this article uses this same perspective to illustrate and argue against points made.
c. Of course this is a very blanket statement looking at the parents surveyed for the research piece that is being reported on here, there are other extenuating circumstances where this is not applicable.
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