Most parents say that they don’t favor one of their children over another, but, under certain conditions, they do.

In tough economic times, parents financially favor daughters over sons, according to researchers at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and Rutgers University Business School. Their study, forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, found surveyed parents preferred to give a U.S. Treasury bond to a daughter, and bequeathed a greater share of their assets to female offspring in their will when they perceived economic conditions to be poor.
 
Recessions subconsciously lead parents to prefer girls over boys, according to Rutgers Professor  Kristina Durante, lead author of the study.
 
In one experiment, 629 participants read a news article that described the economy as either improving, getting worse, or neutral. They were asked to make a will dividing their assets between an imaginary son and daughter as well as assign one to a beneficial program. Those led to believe tough economic times were ahead, allocated nearly 60 percent of their available resources to the girl compared to a nearly 50/50 split between the two children when economic conditions were viewed as either neutral or prosperous.
 
“These findings in humans align well with the behavior of other animals,” said U of M Professor Vladas Griskevicius in a prepared statement. “When resources are scarce, parents prefer females because they have a larger reproductive payoff. Almost every female child will produce some offspring, but many male children end up having zero offspring.”
 
Another experiment in the paper explored the boundaries of age. The bias toward females was stronger as the children moved closer to reproductive age.

The study, “Spending on Daughters Versus Sons in Economic Recessions.” has implications for parents and businesses, the authors say. By being aware that they can unwittingly bias their spending toward specific children, parents can track spending to maintain equity.
 
“When we survey parents, it’s very clear they want to treat their children equally,” Redden said in a news release. “But if they’re relying on feelings… it’s very likely this bias is seeping in, especially when times are tougher and they don’t have money to do everything.”
 

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