When we think of children dutifully carrying on the family business, we typically think of sons following in dad’s footsteps, whether it’s the political legacy of the Bush and Kennedy men or the fictional mafia legacy of the Corleones. Daughters taking after dear old dad? It happens, just not at the same rate. But that’s changing. These days, women are bearing the torches of dad’s successes across every imaginable industry, even the typically male-dominated ones.
Case in point: Charlotte Flair, the daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair, who has not only helped lead professional wrestling’s (and the WWE’s in particular) women’s revolution, but earlier this year, also became the first woman to main event Wrestlemania (alongside her opponents Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch). “They used to say a woman would never main event a pay-per-view,” she said at the time. “I’m pretty sure I heard that from my dad.”
Flair filling her father’s wrestling boots is not without some precedent. Before her, several women have picked up their dad’s reins after watching him in action — e.g., Jane Fonda (Henry), Anjelica Huston (John), Sofia Coppola (Francis) and Angelina Jolie (Jon Voight). Meanwhile, Clea Newman steers Paul Newman’s charitable foundations; Will Smith’s daughter Willow is the youngest act signed to Jay-Z’s label; Billy Ray Cyrus is responsible for mega popstar Miley; and JFK’s daughter Caroline became an ambassador to Japan.
Admittedly, though, those industries are notably dynastic, predisposed to ushering in one’s own spawn thanks to a gifted mix of connections and enviable genes. In certain arenas, just having a parent in the industry (typically father-to-son) is a shoe-in for getting in yourself (especially in politics and entertainment).
Back in the real world, it’s been more of an evolution — for father-to-daughter businesses in particular. The numbers: In 1909, just 6 percent of women took on the same occupation as dad. By 1977, it was 18 percent. Nearly 40 years later, though, those numbers have changed again. Census data from 2015 found that 22 percent of sons were now working alongside dad by age 30, and only 13 percent of daughters could say the same, meaning that compared with the 1977 data, fewer women and men were taking after dad.
When they do, it comes down to a few specific factors. The first is the industry itself. Whereas children tend not to emulate or imitate clerical work or middle management, they are most likely to inherit a position as a steelworker, legislator, baker, lawyer or doctor. In terms of daughters, they’re more likely to become fishers, textile machine operators, medical or lab techs and aircraft mechanics when dad’s one, too. Another factor is income — the higher it is, the more likely the job will be inherited. (On the flip side, research has found that when parents are unemployed, children are more likely to have no idea what they want to do when they grow up.)
Such changes in daughters specifically taking cues from their fathers came about for numerous reasons, too, such as shifts in laws and attitudes about women working. But there was another thing that made all the difference in the triple increase between 1909 and 1977: Dad’s influence.
Researchers call it the “breakfast table effect.” It’s not that there isn’t an existing aptitude or a predisposition toward a certain skill set already in the DNA when it comes to pursuing certain fields. It’s that there’s an added value and advantage of talking about the insular, idiosyncratic aspects of the job itself during family conversations around the breakfast table. Essentially, it leaves children with the “same language” spoken as dad that makes the choice seem natural. (The breakfast table effect is also called “job specific human capital,” and as such, it includes dad’s professional connections as well — e.g., putting in the good word for her to get the internship or with a hiring colleague who might dog-ear that resume.)
Of course, it was equally important that while fathers may have always shared their hard-won, insider-knowledge about the biz with their children, daughters, no doubt buoyed by the groundswell of social and political changes granting them greater access to power, began absorbing it in such a way that it finally lined up with real choices. Not to mention, receiving actual encouragement to enter their dad’s chosen field (from dad himself) as well as mentoring from him once they got there.
In other words, a daughter who becomes a math professor just like dad might have always been able to see him grade papers at night. But at some point in history, he lets her participate in the process, and significantly, narrates the fact of his work as something just as open to her, too.
So although the number of daughters taking over the family business have dropped since the late 1970s, they’ll likely replace that volume with power. After all, a son with a CEO father is 1,895 times more likely to become the head man in charge, too. Now, though, there’s a solid chance it’ll be his little girl running things instead.