Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Women increasingly following in fathers' footsteps

It's been clear for a long time that about 30 percent of sons choose the same jobs as their fathers.

Now, however, something has changed. Women--whose fathers once had little influence on what kind of work they did--are increasingly following in their fathers' footsteps. That's the conclusion of a University of Maryland study, as reported by Tara Parker-Pope in her Well blog on the website of the New York Times.

The researchers analyzed data on women born between 1909 and 1977, according to Parker-Pope. Only 6 percent of women born in the first decade after 1909 took jobs similar to their fathers'. But by the last decade of the study, that figure had risen to 18 percent.

The study doesn't offer any explanation for the change, but it could be that fathers are passing on more skills to daughters now than in the past, said Judith K. Hellerstein, an associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland.

More from Parker-Pope:

Dr. Hellerstein notes that her own father’s job as a math professor influenced her career path.

“I watched my father grade math papers at night,’’ she said. “And my father made it clear to us that women could do math, which was important.’’

Why would fathers now spend more time talking about their careers with their daughters than they did in the past? Something is changing. We know that fathers are spending more time with their children now than in earlier decades; perhaps that, too, is part of the explanation.

My editorial comment: This study should encourage researchers to look more closely at fathers' influence on their kids' development.


  1. My daughter took one swing at following in my footsteps - going up to the campus newspaper and writing her first story onto the front page. But then she decided against it - and I have to admit I'm glad she did, given the way the newspaepr biz is going.

  2. My father, the architect, said that women did not become architects - in 1969 - many did not. I am glad I disregarded his advice, although it took me a BA in fine arts before I found my career. Today, althoug the architecture schools register more than 50% female students, the profession has less than 20% licensed female architects. What is going on? I think it is bigger than father's sharing their roles with their daughters. Many of the women I have met who are successful in their careers, state that it was both of their parents encouragement to be what they wanted to be. I too am looking forward to continued research on the professions and the mentoring father's can give to their children.