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Terence Blacker: Why should a boy be more like a girl?

The idea that women are more socially generous insults everybody

In a startling new survey, it has been discovered that not only are girls made of sugar and spice and all things nice, but that they can often induce niceness in others. Boys, on the other hand, have a slugs-and-snails influence on those close to them.

Studies revealing the general superiority of female virtues are two-a-penny these days but this new paper – unpublished but widely promoted in the press – has gone further than most. According to two economists, Andrew Oswald of Warwick University and Dr Nattavudh Powdthavee of York University, fathers who have daughters become more leftwing as a result, while mothers who have sons head in the opposite direction.

Working cheerfully on the assumption that the majority of women are in favour of better public services through increased taxes, while men selfishly favour lower taxation, the economists conclude that, as men acquire female children, they "gradually shift their political stance and become more sympathetic to the 'female' desire for a ... larger amount for the public good. Similarly, a mother with sons becomes more sympathetic to the 'male' cause for lower taxes and smaller supply of public goods."

Some people, particularly parents, might feel that any academic survey which, with the help of strategic inverted commas, generalises about female and male political attitudes is rather too tendentious and sexist to be taken seriously. The idea that women are more socially generous by virtue of their gender insults pretty much everybody.

In one area, though, Oswald and Powdthavee are on the right track. "Political feelings are less independently chosen than people realise," they say. "Children mould their parents."

Taking these words as its text, another unpublished academic study might dare to buck the trend of the moment and look at the positive ways in which bearing and bringing up male children can influence parents.

Boys, it would argue, tend to be less sociable than girls, more generally awkward, as they grow up. They are less likely to have a network of supportive friends who are full of chat and empathy. That cussed maleness is a good and positive thing for parents, reminding them of the importance of strength and bloody-mindedness, the report would say. The much-vaunted gift of emotional intelligence, generally seen as a female quality, may make society a nicer and easier place, but not always a better one.

That male talent for nerdish obsessiveness, those weird boyhood enthusiasms, are grounded in individuality. They represent a determination to be oneself, no matter what parents, teachers or other children might say or think. Empathy for others is not the only important social asset. Children can teach their parents that it is good to be out of step with the majority now and then.

This alterative academic study, boldly speaking up for unfashionable male virtues, will conclude that bringing up boys can educate mothers and fathers in the importance of bloody-mindedness. Parents might even learn that authoritative studies which assume "female" and "male" political leanings might well be the work of "silly" economists.