Newborns' gender affects dads' pay and their work habits, study finds

Fathers of boys put in longer hours on job, researchers report

Cause of discrepancy sought

June 20, 2000|By SEATTLE TIMES

Research by two University of Washington economists strongly suggests that men not only work longer hours after the birth of a child, they work harder still if that child is a son.

The researchers are stumped to explain why and have witnessed some serious head-scratching from fellow economists.

"Their response has been, `I love my daughter as much as I love my son,'" said Shelly Lundberg, a UW economics professor who conducted the research with fellow UW economist Elaina Rose.

Lundberg and Rose's findings do not suggest that hard-working fathers love a son more than a daughter, said Lundberg, the study's principal investigator. But they may reflect how spouses interpret their roles differently depending on whether they have a son or daughter.

The researchers also found that the birth of a boy affected how much some men earn.

Their findings, said Lundberg, challenge the notion that society is becoming gender-blind.

"It's maybe a bit of a wake-up call that fatherhood of a son is something different from fatherhood of a daughter," Lundberg said. "That's something that's not in our day-to-day thinking about family life these days."

Lundberg and Rose found that, on average, men work 122 hours more a year after the birth of their first child if it is a boy. If the first child is a girl, men work an average of 56 more hours per year.

The study is to be presented next week to the World Conference of the European Association of Labor Economists/Society of Labor Economists in Milan, Italy. It is also under review for publication in the Harvard University-based Review of Economics and Statistics.

The results are based on data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics on more than 1,200 men surveyed from 1968 through 1993. The study began with a group of families and over time grew to include additional children and spouses.

The data are self-reported, introducing a possible bias, but Lundberg said the researchers are extremely confident of their conclusion after running their statistical analyses past economists in Hong Kong, Netherlands and the United States.

Lundberg and Rose divided the data into two samples: men born in or before 1950 and men born after 1950. In both groups, the effect of children is similar on hours and wage rates. But the older men had a bigger increase in wage rates if they fathered a boy, while the younger men had a bigger increase in the number of hours worked after having a boy.

"In both cases we're getting significant impacts from the gender of your child," Lundberg said.

In some cultures, male children are more valued to the point where it is possible to imagine fathers behaving differently, said Viktor Gecas, a Washington State University sociologist who has done long-term studies of married couples. Children also tend to associate more with the parent of the same sex as they grow older, he said.

But even if American fathers prefer sons to daughters, it shouldn't affect their work, Gecas said.

"I don't think it makes sense," Gecas said. "It doesn't fit my conceptual scheme for how things should work."Lundberg and Rose have explored several hypotheses to account for their findings. They've asked whether fathers expect a son to be more expensive but concluded the dads don't.

They've wondered whether fathers are worried that a son is less likely than a daughter to care for them in old age but found no evidence of that.

They are exploring whether a son's birth causes a man to value marriage and family more, prompting him to invest in the marriage by working harder at the traditional role of breadwinner.

The researchers also found that male wages go up after the birth of a child. Women's hours decrease, as do their wage rates, Lundberg said.

What's unclear is why men should be paid more because they have children.

The "fatherhood premium" increases men's wages by about 4.5 percent every time they father a child. The data were controlled for the age of the men: The researchers compared men of similar ages and whether they were having children.

The researchers plan to look at job changes and promotions to see whether new fathers are working harder and going to higher-pressure or better-paying jobs.

"Maybe the bosses like the men with kids and give them a raise," Lundberg said.

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