Why Having a Daughter Might Make You Get a Divorce

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A new study shows evidence that couples who have teenage daughters are more likely to divorce, compared to couples with teenage sons (or younger children in general). Right now you’re probably thinking of your own family or the families that you know and wondering if that jibes with your experience, but it’s very important to remember in a case like this that your experience is practically meaningless. Sorry.

I say that because this isn’t the first study of its kind — there have been many studies that seek to learn whether the gender of children affects their parents’ relationships. Some studies find that girls are worse on marriages, and some others find that there’s no difference at all. This is one that supports the former, and it’s pretty rigorous in that unlike previous studies, it uses existing data instead of relying on self-reported surveys. Surveys can be useful, but they are also prone to mistakes, as people misremember details and timelines that can be important. The data used in this study shows exactly when people got married, when they had their first kid, the gender of that kid, and if and when the couple divorced.

You’re probably thinking there’s no way a parent could screw up when their kid was born and if that is what you’re thinking then I say congratulations on having decent parents. My mom once missed my birthday by a week and then tried to cover it up by saying she was waiting for my present to go on sale at Kohl’s. Everything is always on sale at Kohl’s, mom! Dammit!

Anyway, this study did find a difference in divorce rates between female children and male children, but it was pretty slight. Statistically significant but slight: cumulatively, it’s a 1.8% increased chance, though it peaks at an 8.8% increase when kids are 15 years old.

So then the question becomes, “why?” To answer that, I turned to the Reddit comments on the study posted in r/science, where ShastaMcLurky writes:

“As a father of two daughters, I can relate my own personal feelings on the matter that wasn’t brought up. Girls are sometimes just bitches.”

Boboblah780, who mostly posts in video game subreddits, concurs:

“I think this has something to do with it, too. I just don’t know how they would quantify different levels of “bitch.””

Fascinating! This truly opens up a whole new field of study in the sciences: scientifically defining the word “bitch” and studying the effects of bitches upon the rest of the population. What other havoc have bitches wreaked under cover of just being “teenaged girls”?

Thankfully, the study actually does address the possible reasons why the data looks the way it does, albeit in a slightly more rigorous manner that doesn’t just decide millions of little girls are bitches. They found that the divorce rate for parents of teenaged girls was vastly higher when the parents had different immigration statuses or had a large age gap between them. This can be explained by the fact that some cultures and generations have much, much more restrictive ideas about girls compared to boys. Boys can, generally, just be boys, but there are huge differences between how people expect girls to behave, with more conservative people wanting to severely control the way they dress, the friends they have, and the activities they do. When the parents can’t agree on that, it leads to strife, and that leads to divorce.

The researchers also found that the higher divorce rate didn’t apply to couples in which the father grew up with sisters. Could it be possible that men who grow up close to women have a better understanding that women are people and not mystical bitches who want to destroy your marriage? Could those fathers have benefited from learning how to form enriching relationships with young girls? Or could it be, as SmiTe1988 says on Reddit, they “were pre-conditioned to the irrational crazy”?

I know I said at the start of this video that your anecdotes don’t matter because it’s a small effect and you’re probably wrong, but after reading all these comments I can’t help but chime in with my own anecdote — not to confirm or deny this paper, but to point out something to Redditors lurking r/science. I grew up with two older brothers and saw them go through their teen years before me. Was I a total bitch to my parents in high school? Probably, at times, though to be honest I was mostly pretty boring and got good grades and wasn’t very high on drama. But you know who else was a total bitch to my parents at times? My brothers. Oh god, the drama! The yelling and the fighting and the grounding!

And if I hadn’t been raised to see men as complete human beings with valid emotional states, I too may have ended up being like those Redditors, expressing sheer horror and confusion at the bitchiness of my teen brothers while maintaining that my teen self was perfectly rational and easy to parent.

If you have daughters, or have them one day, I hope you keep that in mind.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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One Comment

  1. Seeing what the MRA/PUA/evo-psych crowd say and do; I’ve wondered whether these guys had mothers, or sisters, or teachers, or bosses, or colleagues for that matter.

    If we could get a clear index of troll-dom, or mookosity, it would be interesting to survey how it correlated to the absence of any female presence during their deformative years.

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