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New Study Shows Moms and Dads Do Play Favorites, But Not in the Way You Might Think

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The question of whether or not parents truly have a favorite child has been a hotly debated one for years. Of course, there are those who will go to their grave swearing they absolutely do not have a child they prefer; and maybe some parents may truly not. But I can tell you honestly that in my circle of friends (which is basically my own independent research study), almost all of us have a favorite.

Still, actual researchers who have fancy degrees and stuff have proven that indeed, it is true: Parents have favorite children — whether they’ll cop to it or not. And now, new research claims that not only do parents have favorites, but that there’s actually a method to it all: Parents tend to favor children of their own gender.

In a recent study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers found clear evidence that moms tend to prefer daughters, and fathers tend to prefer 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,” researchers said.

What’s more, the parents’ spending habits also seem to follow this same preferential treatment.

The study conducted four separate experiments, both in the U.S. and India to account for cultural differences, in order to measure spending habits. In one of the experiments, researchers told each parent they would be given a $25 treasury bond to give to one of their children. The majority of mothers decided to give this bond to their daughters, while fathers chose to give it to their sons.

In another experiment, participants were given one raffle ticket and had to decide whether to enter the raffle for a girl’s back-to-school backpack, or a boy’s. They found that mothers chose to enter the raffle for a girl’s backpack 75 percent of the time, whereas fathers picked the boy’s backpack 87 percent of the time.

“This is consistent with the idea that people tend to spend money on things that align with their identity,” the study authors noted. “Gift giving to one’s children can be a way for parents to bolster their sense of identity and live vicariously through their children.”

Certainly some of this can come down to personal desire and the ease of buying things one is more familiar with, but does this necessarily mean each parent absolutely preferred one child over another? Speaking personally of those I know (myself included), the preference oftentimes is directed towards the child who is least like ourselves. Perhaps part of this is due to the fact there may be more emotion (and frustration) attached when dealing with a child who is either like us or may exhibit traits we may not always like in ourselves. Sometimes it comes down to where we and are children are in life. Sometimes, there is no reason, or partiality that exists at all.

More than 90 percent of study participants said they treat their children equally regardless of gender, and do not show favoritism. But this research may serve as a reminder to step back and take a look at certain behaviors, because they can have downstream effects on future decisions. As the study authors point out, if mothers make most of the financial decisions in the family, daughters may receive more inheritance, college funding, or financial investment than their sons.

Obviously, no parent would ever want to actually make their preferences known when it comes to their children, and as researchers found, we rarely admit it even to ourselves. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware that it exists.

“If this gender bias influences decisions related to charitable giving, college savings, promotions and politics, then it can have profound implications and is something we can potentially correct going forward,” researchers concluded.

Whether or not this directly applies to you, it certainly is worth considering.

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