In a finding that may inflame — and justify — sibling rivalries, new research suggests that parents may not love all their children equally.
Sociologist Katherine Conger created a longitudinal study to examine the often touchy relationship parents share with their progeny, writes New York Magazine’s Tanya Basu. But she and her team asked 384 pairs of brothers and sisters (each with less than four years age difference between them) how they felt about the way their parents related to them. They asked the children if they sensed any difference in the way their parents treated them as opposed to the other kids in the family, and whether their self-esteem was affected by the perceived imbalanced treatment. After that, the group interviewed the parents of the siblings to get their perspective.
The results showed that firstborns were more likely to feel preferred, possibly because they were only children for a time. Even when other siblings join the family, the eldest was the first to succeed in sports, do well academically, and confuse their folks about their parenting skills. The findings seem to show that as children grow older, parents get better at being parents — and also possibly get a little tougher on the younger siblings.
Even so, younger siblings felt they did not get noticed by their parents as much as the first born:
“I was a little surprised by that,” Conger told Quartz. “Our working hypothesis was that older, earlier born children would be more affected by perceptions of differential treatment due to their status as older child — more power due to age and size, more time with parents — in the family.”
But Conger said the biggest surprise was that even if moms and dads would not admit that they liked one child over another, 70% of fathers and 74% of moms confessed they unquestionably showered a particular child with preferential treatment more than the other siblings.
Still, no matter their age position in the family, every kid in the study had a suspicion that their parents were favoring the others.
If there was some sibling rivalry in your family, and as Nicolas DiDomizio of Mic says, “you lived your life in the shadow of someone else’s dream,” it was probably because parents do have favorites.
And Conger’s research to back this idea up. Her 2005 Journal of Family Psychology study found that chances are, your mom was lying when she said she loved all her babies equally.
Ellen Scott of the UK’s Metro says that finally the truth has come out. Science has proven what everybody already knew. Your brother always got the biggest slice of cake, and your sister got away with things you always got punished for doing. The reporter added that everyone should text their parents immediately and bug them until they tell the truth.
And in another study from Brigham Young University and Pennsylvania State University, 388 families were interviewed over three years, with results showing that 48% of parents thought their oldest child was the most capable academically, unless the youngest sibling was a girl and the eldest child was a boy.
This research suggests that the favored child was more likely to display the level of academic achievement that matched the predictions the parents conferred on the child, whatever their age or gender, reports The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Adams.