The Daughter Effect?

May 27, 2011Women earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the United States, with global percentages varying, but rarely better. Can having a daughter help close the gender pay gap, as some newspapers allege? In today’s guest post, Catalyst’s Jeanine Prime, Senior Director, Research, explores this question. According to Jeanine, the so-called “daughter effect” only goes so far. —Ilene H. Lang


If you read the The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times recently, you might come to believe the so-called “daughter effect” can have a powerful impact on wages.

Recent coverage of the daughter effect cites an academic study of salaries of hundreds of thousands of Danish workers at 6,231 firms. The researchers found that when a male CEO had a daughter, the wage gap in their company closed, on average, by 0.5%. And when a male CEO’s first-born child was a girl, the wage gap closed by nearly 3%. The birth of a son had no effect on the gap.

“The first daughter ‘flips a switch’ in the mind of a male CEO,” the authors wrote, “causing him to attend more to equity in gender-related wage policies.”

This seems a bit of a stretch.

According to the original research, the daughter effect was only large enough to be called statistically significant in companies with 10-50 employees. This tells me that, at best, having a daughter might have a small bias-reducing effect on the salary decisions over which a CEO has direct control. This explains why in a small company, where the CEO’s span of control is more direct, the daughter effect can be felt.

But the effect of having a daughter is apparently not so mind-altering or powerful enough to inspire a CEO to display the kind of dedicated advocacy that’s needed to overhaul the institutionalized bias ever-present in many large companies with more complex talent management systems.

This rings true for me. In Catalyst’s Engaging Men series, we looked at what factors make men advocate for gender equality on this grander scale, as visible gender equity champions within their workplaces. We did not find that having a daughter was a factor in creating champions. Rather, our research suggests that a deep commitment to fairness sets many champions apart. Having a working spouse can make a small difference too.

The bottom line: While I’m sure having a daughter can be transformative for some men, for most men it isn’t enough of a call to advocacy. And this makes sense.

Men have been having daughters since the beginning of time, but throughout the world, gender inequity and the wage gap remain entrenched.


Jeanine Prime, Ph.D., Senior Director, Research, leads studies of women’s leadership and organizational effectiveness at Catalyst. She authored the first two studies—Women “Take Care,” Men “Take Charge:” Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed and Different Cultures, Similar Perceptions: Stereotyping of Western European Business Leaders—in Catalyst's research series that examines gender stereotypes and the ways in which stereotypes contribute to gender disparities in the global workplace. Additionally, Dr. Prime leads cross-cultural research examining strategies for creating inclusive workplaces, including techniques for engaging men in gender diversity. She has a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Cornell University, an M.B.A. from the State University of New York at Binghamton, and a B.A. in Psychology from Spelman College.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.