Who’s Your Baby?

When boss daddies have daughters, they see women differently

All around the world, men make more money than women, even when they hold jobs where they perform the same work and have the same experience and level of education—anywhere from nine to 18 percent more, to be precise. But a research team led by Columbia professor David Gaddis Ross says there’s a simple way to lessen the gap: have the (overwhelmingly) male CEOs in charge of companies become the fathers of girls. When they do, those CEOs increase pay for women in their employ.

The increase, Ross’s team found, is greater when a man’s first-born child is a daughter, but even daughters born after sons heighten their dads’ sensitivity to the gender wage gap. (The birth of sons didn’t affect wages either way; nor did the birth of children of any gender to female CEOs.) A first child who was a daughter shrank the divide between male and female wages an average of nearly three percent; the births of daughters who had older brothers decreased the difference by an average .8 percent. Ninety percent of the 6,000-plus Danish CEOs in the study, which covered 12 years of data, were male.

Good news, right? Yes—and no. The study is infuriating because it shows that despite the growing numbers of women moving into, and up in, the world’s workforce, and despite our increasingly high levels of education and competence, it doesn’t seem there’s much we ourselves can do to even out the wage divide. It’s not until male CEOs start contemplating the consequences of inequality for their own progeny that they take steps to address it. (The researchers’ methodology eliminated other potential reasons for the growth in women’s pay.)

The plaintiffs’ attorney in a lawsuit over scheduling of girls’ high-school soccer matches once observed, “There is no more radical feminist than the father of an elite girl athlete.” And no more equitable bossman than one with a newborn baby girl. The personal really is political. Alas, some CEOs are only going to have sons—or no kids at all. It would be nice if men could be moved toward parity by the situation of females who aren’t extensions of themselves.