Parents Do Have a Favorite Child for This Very Specific Reason, Says Science

kid kissing mom's nose
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Even with many moms and dads staying tight-lipped about the issue, for decades, people have been trying to get parents to admit if they really do have a favorite child. What you assumed all along might be right, because despite the denial, recent studies have found that many parents do have natural biases when it comes to their kids -- whether they admit it or not. But it may not be for the reasons you think. 

Advertisement

One recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology explained that researchers found substantial evidence that suggests parental biases between their kids. Though, instead of these biases being based on things like age or common interest, they were centered around gender. 

According to the study, mothers have a tendency to prefer their daughters and fathers have a tendency to prefer their sons. The reasoning behind these biases had little to do with conscious maliciousness or favoritism, and was instead more about instincts and what they identify with. However, they also found that this bias doesn't mean you have a bad relationship with the other child -- it has more of an impact on how resources get distributed than on how well you get along. 

More from CafeMom: What Happens When Your Kids Think You Have a Favorite Child

"The biological sex of a child leads to a systematic bias with parents allocating more resources to the child who is the same sex as they are," the researchers explained.

Four different experiments were conducted in both the United States and India over the course of the study. In the first experiment, researchers told each parent that they would be given a $25 treasury bond for one of their children and forced them to choose. While most mothers selected their daughters to receive the bond, the majority of fathers chose their sons. 

In another experiment performed during the study, parents were given a raffle ticket and told to put it in either a girl's backpack or a boy's backpack. The results found that mothers chose to place the raffle ticket in the girl's backpack 75 percent of the time and fathers chose the boy's backpack 87 percent of the time. 

The researchers insisted that these results are closely aligned with humans' innate nature of supporting things we self-identify with. "This is consistent with the idea that people tend to spend money on things that align with their identity," the researchers wrote. "Gift giving to one's children can be a way for parents to bolster their sense of identity and live vicariously through their children."

In addition to these findings, the scientists also determined that these biases have implications deeper than raffle tickets and $25 bonds; they can have negative ramifications on the resources children are exposed to in their everyday lives. "For example, when men control the family's financial decisions, then sons may chronically receive more resources than daughters," researchers wrote. "By contrast, if women are the primary shoppers, this can result in subtle but consistent favoritism for daughters."

They also suggest that children living in single parent households may have a harder time with these biases without another parent around to "even things out." Still, even with this evidence, scientists found that more than 90 percent of the parent participants in the study said that their children were treated equally and without bias regardless of their gender. 

More from CafeMom: Baby Advice Books Might Actually Be Making Moms Miserable, Says Science

For parents, this research should serve as a reminder to take a step back and observe our behaviors. Unintentional or not, constantly showing favoritism for one kid over another can have negative effects on self-esteem and your overall relationship with the child. Even if you think this doesn't apply to your family, it may be time to take a deeper look just to be aware. 

Read More >