Father Knows Best: More Women Are Following In Dad’s Footsteps

As we’ve written about before, fathers have a profound influence over their daughters, especially when it comes to relationships. Many people believe that women either seek out partners that are a lot like their dads or as different from them as can be. But two new studies reveal that women are actually more influenced by their fathers than their mothers when it comes to choosing their career paths.

The University of Maryland studied the career choices among women born between 1909 and 1977 and discovered that 18 percent of women born in the final decade of the study pursued the same career their father, compared with 6 percent of those born in the first decade. Another study, this one conducted by Peggy Drexel, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell, comes to the same conclusion — that women are more likely to go down the same career path as their fathers than their mothers — but sees it as a negative that comes as the result of fathers always being viewed as “the patient teacher(s)” and “the daughter(s) the wide-eyed apprentice.” She writes on The Huffington Post:

“What happens to time-calibrated roles when a daughter has to make life choices that are a bit more complex, personal and lasting…? … For many high-achieving women in my study of the changing relationship between daughters and fathers, the transition can be difficult. They find themselves walking the often thread-thin divide between contribution and control. Some maintain their equilibrium, others don’t. Without the precise balance of contribution and independence, however, women may find — instead of a pathway to the benefits of experience — a constriction that cuts off the oxygen to their own plans and dreams.”

In other words, fathers end up having a TOO big influence over what their daughters end up pursuing as adults, often sidelining their own aspirations in order to please.

Judy Berman at Salon.com disagrees. She thinks that both studies indicate that in the last few decades that yes, dads have a big influence over their daughters (and children in general), but that’s because they’ve also just become far more active as parents then in previous generations, when the mother was often the main parental influence and role model. Couple that with the women’s movement, a lot more women joining the work force, and women aspiring for the same high-ranking positions as men, as the numbers are bound to go up.

“Sure, this also means more pressure and criticism for daughters from the kinds of fathers who have always pressured and criticized their sons. But it also means more support and guidance for daughters from the kinds of fathers who have always supported and guided their sons.”

I’m more apt to agree with Berman on this issue than Drexel, though I think my own personal experience, and the way I grew up and was raised, doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of this study. Both my parents worked full-time jobs, but in creative and academic fields. My father (he’s retired now) was an administrator in the writing department at a university, while my mom taught English as a Second Language (ESL) to refugees and immigrants. But both of them have passions outside their day jobs that I think define them, career-wise, just as much — my dad is a writer and my mom is a painter. I was always encouraged to pursue my creative interests and as a result I was very interested in both becoming a writer (and, in fact, wrote a book when I was 12) and an artist (I studied photography and art in high school and college). Eventually, I had to make a choice — writer, artist, or something else entirely? I ended up going with writing, not because my dad had a bigger impact on my choices than my mom, but because, frankly, I was a MUCH better writer than artist. Seriously, couldn’t draw a straight line (though I did take decent photos). Plus, in the end, I enjoyed writing more.

Still, my parents were never pushy or pressuring or critical, except in that they always encouraged me to follow my dreams. If anything, they might have been critical if I was considering a less creative path — like finance — as they clearly believed, and raised me to believe, that offering some creative to the world was a far more precious and valuable pursuit. In the end though, I strongly agree with Berman that these studies do show that dads are now more active in their daughters’ lives and are encouraging them to break through traditional gender roles. And that’s a great thing.