While almost all parents (90 percent) say they treat their sons and daughters equally, they unconsciously favor their child of the same sex when it comes to shopping, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. The findings suggest that when offered time or money to shop, or a free kids’ gift, a mother is more likely to choose something for her daughter, while a father would choose something for his son.
Researchers conducted four different experiments and recruited participants from different cultures to make sure their findings were consistent in various settings. In one study, 250 men and women were given a $50 gift card. They were asked to imagine that they have two children — one boy and one girl. They then responded to two questions: “If you have enough resources to invest in only one of your children, whom would you invest your limited resources in?” and, “If you had to divide limited resources between your two children, how would you divide them?”
For the first scenario, men chose the son 62 percent of the time, whereas women chose the daughter 71 percent of the time. For the second question, results showed that men favored sons significantly more than women did, and vice versa.
The next study took place at a zoo, where 52 parents were asked if they wanted to take part in a quick survey for the chance to win a toy. When asked if they wanted a girl’s or a boy’s toy, mothers chose the girl’s toy 76 percent of the time, whereas fathers chose the boy’s toy 87 percent of the time.
In the third study, involving 470 parents and nonparents, when asked whom they’d prioritize spending money on, their (real or imaginary) son or daughter, as predicted, men and women favored the same-sex child.
And in the last study, 412 parents who reported having children of each sex were recruited from the U.S. and India. All participants were asked to make a choice about whether to give a $25 U.S. Treasury bond either to their son or daughter. Participants were told that they would be entered into a drawing to potentially receive a real bond that would be paid out according to their choice. And the results were as expected: Mothers favored daughters more frequently than fathers did, and vice versa.
So, it’s clear: When given the opportunity to get a little something special, fathers favor sons and mothers favor daughters. And the researchers found favoritism is consistent with which child the parent identifies with.
“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,” says researcher Kristina Durante, a professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey.
But when asked bluntly, parents deny any favoritism. “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 at Oneonta and one of the study’s authors.
These findings say it all, though. “When men control the family’s financial decisions, sons may chronically receive more resources than daughters. By contrast, if women are the primary shoppers, this can result in subtle but consistent favoritism for daughters,” says Nikiforidis.
This explains why your dad was always bringing home baseballs for your brother, and your mom came home with extra clothes in your size after a shopping spree. Don’t take it personally (unless you’re the one being gifted; in that case you are the chosen one): It’s science.
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