Parents Really Do Have a Favorite Child, No Matter What They Say

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New study found mothers favor daughters and fathers favor sons

Ask any parent if they have a favorite child and they’ll probably tell you “No.” They’ll insist that they love all of their children equally. We regret to inform you a new study is calling everyone on their bluff – finding that parents totally play favorites, no matter what they say to the contrary.

Researchers had parents answer which child they’d give money to if they could only pick one. Even though 90 percent of people in the study said they treat children of different genders equally, the actual data suggests it’s bullshit. Most of the parents in the study favored the child of the same biological sex when it came to spending money. The study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology concluded that mothers favor their daughters and fathers favor their sons.

“The bias toward investing in same-gendered children occurs because women identify more with and see themselves in their daughters, and the same goes for men and sons,” Kristina Durante, a professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey tells Science Daily.

Here’s how they were able to figure it out. Researchers conducted four different experiments in the United States and India (their attempt to control for any cultural differences) to measure spending habits. In one experiment, the parents were told they had to give a $25 treasury bond to only one of their children. Mothers were more likely to choose their daughter to receive the bond and fathers were more likely to choose the son. Researchers claim the same effects emerged when parents had to decide which child would receive more in their will. It happened again when parents had to choose which child to enter into a back-to-school supplies contest. Women chose the girl 76 percent of the time and men chose the boy as the prize recipient 87 percent of the time.

People tend to spend money on things that align with their identity, according to the abstract in the study. It’s believed that gift giving to your children can be a way for parents to bolster their sense of identity and live vicariously through children. I admit, I buy my daughters Wonder Woman gifts and Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers – I identify as a strong woman who likes cool sneakers.

“Although the idea that parents might play favorites is not new—we’ve all heard adages such as ‘like father, like son’ or ‘daddy’s girl’—most parents strongly deny favoring one child over the other,” says Lambrianos Nikiforidis, an assistant professor of marketing at the State University of New York, Oneonta. “Even though parents say they do not have a favorite, they also admit they do not actively track investment in each child, which leaves room for bias.”

Because the bias was so prevalent (and parents didn’t really admit or notice it), Nikiforidis and colleagues proposed that parents should exhibit a sex-matching bias when investing across their children. They should pause. Really take an honest look at how they spend money on their kids and make adjustments if needed to achieve as much balance as possible. Additionally, if you have a single parent household or same-sex parent household, it may be more challenging to balance out the bias.

If anything, this study encourages us to re-examine what we’re doing in our own homes. If we’re self-aware and honest with ourselves we can start to look for the bias and favoritism in our lives, in our families, and maybe even in our professional lives. We shouldn’t look at these biases as total pitfalls and parenting fails. We have enough parenting shame and judgement in the world to last a lifetime and drive us all bananas. But we can make small changes and adjust. We can look for more opportunities to give all of our children a truly equal (and happy) upbringing.