Children's Voice May/June 2009

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The Down to Earth Dad

Girls Follow in Dads' Footsteps

By Patrick Mitchell

Programs seeking to increase father involvement have good success when they focus initial father-involvement kickoff events on the fathers-and-sons theme. Perhaps that's because society holds the father-son relationship in high regard, in a way similar to how we see the mother-daughter bond. For whatever the reason, that first father-son event catches people's attention, and I advise programs to leverage that stereotype to their advantage when it comes to hosting father-involvement events. Often, programs will focus on a dads-and-daughters theme for their second event to keep the momentum going.

As a society, we tend to see fathers as having less influence on their daughters than their sons, but we don't talk about it in those terms. Rather, we build up the father-son relationship, and in so doing, lessen the importance of fathers' influence on their daughters. It's true, many boys follow in their father's footsteps; however, new research suggests that girls, more and more, are also following in their dad's footsteps-right into his line of work.

I spoke with Melinda Morrill PhD, assistant professor of economics in the North Carolina University College of Management. Her research with Judith Hellerstein, associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland, reveals that the relationship between fathers and daughters is, somehow, leading to an increase in the number of girls heading into their fathers' occupation as adults.

"More and more often these days, dads are passing on some job-related skills to daughters. It could be that daughters are simply paying more attention to what their fathers have to say about work because the daughters can now consider pursuing [his type of] career, " Morrill says. "Women are increasingly more likely to go into their fathers' occupation over time."

Changes in society over the past century have meant there would be an increase, anyway, in the number of women entering into all kinds of men's jobs, regardless of their father's influence. In other words, women have been entering traditionally "men's jobs" more and more as time goes on. Just under 6% of women born from 1909 to 1915 worked in their father's occupation, while around 20% of women born in the mid-1970s do so, Morrill and Hellerstein found. The researchers evaluated the number of women who went into their fathers' line of work, and found that as much as 20% of the increase in the number of girls pursuing jobs similar to their dads' jobs could be attributed to the father's influence on his daughter's career choice.

"A huge part of that is due to the fact that women are entering any man's occupation over that time period," Morrill acknowledges. Still, she notes, "The study demonstrates that there is a connection there [between fathers, daughters, and work], and I think that's an interesting and important finding."

I asked Morrill what direct advice she might offer fathers, and she said with a chuckle, "I'd tell them, 'Hey dads, your daughters may actually be listening.'" So, if you work with children and families, next time you see a father and daughter together in the hallway, in the foyer, or in your office or classroom, consider that this father might very well have a profound influence on his daughter. If you can, show your respect for their relationship being at least as significant as if the pair were father and son. After all, those are some big shoes to fill, but not only might a daughter choose to try dad's shoes on, but she might just choose to keep right on walking in them.

A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and facilitates the Dads Matter!™ Project for early childhood programs, schools, and child- and family-serving organizations. He conducts keynote addresses, workshops, and inservice and preservice trainings. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the Dads Matter!™ Project for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877/282-DADS, or e-mail him at patrick@downtoearthdad.org. Website: www.DownToEarthDad.org.

To comment on this story, e-mail voice@cwla.org.


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