Fathers spend more money on sons and mothers spend more money on daughters, according to new research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Parents displayed same-sex biases towards kids in multiple datasets, despite genuinely believing they love all of their children equally.
“We found that the effect was very robust in four different experiments and across cultures,” study coauthor Kristina Durante of Rutgers University said in a statement. “Women identify more with and see themselves in their daughters, and the same goes for men and sons.”
As much as moms and dads claim to not play favorites, this isn’t the first study to suggest that they do. Researchers have found that parents tend to favor their first born children, and prior studies have raised the possibility that dads pay more attention to their daughters. Meanwhile, a 2007 study found that mothers are seldom aware of how much money they invest in individual children. All of this raised a question that Durante and her team hoped to answer—is it possible that parents show financial favoritism to certain children, without ever recognizing their own biases?
For the study, Durante and colleagues asked 250 adults (not all of whom were parents) which of their hypothetical children they would give a $50 gift card to. Men chose their hypothetical sons 62 percent of the time and women chose their hypothetical daughters 71 percent of the time. Then researchers invited 52 parents to compete for a present for their children, and then asked to them choose whether to give the present to their sons or daughters. Mothers chose their daughters over their sons 76 percent of the time, and 87 percent of fathers spurns their daughters for their sons.
Next, Durante and colleagues surveyed 470 people (parents and non-parents) and found that men generally said they’d spend more money on their sons and identified with them more. Ditto with mothers and daughters. This could mean that the effect has something to do with parents seeing themselves in their children. For the final leg of the study, researchers analyzed data from 195 parents from the U.S. and 217 parents in India. Parents, who all had children of different sexes, were asked which kid they would give a $25 U.S. Treasury bond to. Results confirmed that these biases crossed cultural boundaries, and that parents in both countries favored their same-sex children.
The implications may add up to a lot more than $25. “When men control the family’s financial decisions, then sons may chronically receive more resources than daughters,” study coauthor Lambrianos Nikiforidis of the State University of New York said in a statement. “By contrast, if women are the primary shoppers, this can result in subtle but consistent favoritism for daughters.”
Still, the researchers did not control for time spent with children, how many children were in each family, or birth order, so the results come with limitations. Nikiforidis and Durante both recommend that future studies analyze how these and other variables figure into financial favoritism. Until then, the main takeaway for moms and dads is that, if one person is in charge of the finances, your same-sex kid may be reaping disproportionate benefits.
All the more reasons to take turns paying the bills.