Though researchers haven’t isolated the correlation, data suggests that girls who grow up with present, loving fathers are more likely to hold down high-paying jobs later in life. Why? Income correlates with specific traits understood to be produced by strong father-daughter relationships. And it’s not just about hugs. It’s about men challenging their daughters to challenge themselves.
“We know what factors are related to women making better or worse income, and each of those factors is directly linked to the quality of her relationship with her father,” says psychologist Linda Nielsen, who has studied father-daughter relationships for decades (and wrote a textbook about them). “It’s her graduation rates, her interest in STEM jobs, her assertiveness, her willingness to accept challenging, difficult, and scary tasks, and the sense that you’re responsible for what happens to you. She gets all that from her dad.”
It’s worth noting that data indicates these effects are the strongest among daughters without brothers, suggesting that fathers may take an instinctually gendered approach that does girls a disservice. However, Nielsen suspects that those are old findings and may no longer apply in a more equal labor market. This means today’s daughters may be benefiting more from their fathers’ attention — and that this may lead to more success.
Nielsen broke down how men can help girls learn to challenge themselves.
Good Dads Raise Girls Who Go to School Longer
Loving fathers increase their daughters’ earning potential in part by increasing their daughters’ academic potential. Girls with good dads have higher high school graduation rates and are more likely to attend college as well as obtain master’s and doctorate degrees. Some fathers go as far as to influence daughters’ participation in extra-curricular activities, particularly youth sports. But most dads take a competitive approach to education regardless that helps influence higher levels of achievement. Typically this leads to making more money, Nielsen explains.
“Education is strongly and clearly linked to future income,” she says. “The better relationship she has with her dad, the more likely she is to receive the maximum amount of education.”
Good Dads Raise Girls Who Choose Higher Paying, Less Traditional Careers
According to Nielsen, at least part of the pay gap can be attributed women’s socially driven attraction to careers that are more flexible, and higher-paying male-dominated industries like technology are anything but that. And yet there seems to be one clear exception to this emerging trend in more recent research — girls with fathers who take on more household chores are more likely to pursue jobs in more aspirational, less traditional fields. Authors of the study hypothesize that when daughters see their fathers doing the laundry and vacuuming, they learn that women don’t have to be the ones doing the housework all the time. They can be engineers as well.
“They see the dads doing ‘women’s work,’ and there’s a link between that and their future career choice,” Nielsen explains, noting mothers who take on less traditional roles may have a similar impact. “It makes perfect sense. If you see your mom doing yard work and fixing the car, you’re going to have a different attitude than if you never saw her doing masculine stuff.”
Daughters With Good Dads Welcome Challenges
Fathers are more likely to expose daughters to difficult tasks and to teach them how to overcome challenges and setbacks, whereas mothers tend to want to step in to help, nurture, and soothe. Data suggests dads take more of a hands-off approach. And self-management can lead to the management track.
“Mothers will think, Why would he give her that task, she’s just a baby? Well, that’s the whole point,” Nielsen explains. “He’s teaching her you can be frustrated, that’s how you accomplish things — challenges can be frustrating.”
Usually seen as an early form of tough love, dads create what psychologists call “endeavor of excitement,” or a celebratory feeling when a person succeeds in spite of a challenge. When dads get excited for their daughters doing the hard task over and over again, the more they will get excited for themselves when he’s not in the room. Theoretically, she will seek out more challenges if they feel good.
Daughters With Good Dads Are More Likely to Ask for a Raise
“Another factor we know is linked with income is how assertive are you,” Nielsen says. “Are you assertive enough to ask for a raise? That assertiveness is learned mainly from the father, not the mother. Dad is teaching her to speak up.”
Scientists believe that a father’s biological role as a parent is to model healthy forms of aggression for their children. Like being competitive in the right context, assertiveness represents a form of healthy aggression, and daughters benefit from this throughout their professional lives.
Daughters With Good Dads Don’t Wait for Things to Happen
The main reason girls with good dads are assertive and less risk-averse is because their fathers helped them develop what social scientists refer to as “locus of control” — the extent to which they believe they’re in control of what happens to them. Put another way, dads instill a greater agency. Their daughters know that they’re the agent of what happens to them and they’re not going to just wait around for what they want.
This is where it’s key to separate engaged fathers from enabling ones. Of course, there are dads who continue to bankroll their daughters’ lives into adulthood, and they’re not raising women who get higher-paying jobs. However, loving dads who set limits and resist the urge to rescue their daughters all the time foster a sense of personal responsibility and empowerment. And the biggest mistake well-intended fathers make is doing this too late. Parents often assume agency is modeled when girls are 7 or 8, but studies shows children actually develop it between the ages of 1 and 3, through challenging forms of play, roughhousing, and time spent with their dads. This a critical window of time when they learn not only that they can do it themselves, but also that they’re going to have to.
“You’re not a princess, you’re not daddy’s little girl; you can do it yourself because I’m not going to always rescue you,” Nielsen says. “You need to be self-reliant and self-confident. That comes from the dad.”
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