Moms Are Biased Toward Daughters, Dads Toward Sons—Though They Don't Know It

Parents are more likely to favor children who match their gender, study shows. John Moore/Getty Images

Your mom might have liked your sister more than your brother, after all.

A new study indicates that parents financially favor the child of the same gender as themselves, but are clueless that they're doing it.

Parents who claim they "treat their children equally" unwittingly spend more money on the kid who matches their gender. This means a majority of moms are biased toward investing in their daughters, while fathers favor their sons, explained the study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Parents, apparently subconsciously, identify more strongly with children of the same gender.

"This is consistent with the idea that people tend to spend money on things that align with their identity, and gift giving to one's children can be a way for parents to bolster their sense of identity and live vicariously through their children," the study said.

To figure it out, researchers asked parents of male and female children to pick one of their adoring children to give a $25 U.S. Treasury bond—selected because it is considered a safe, long-term investment suitable for an education fund. The majority of mothers gave the bond to their daughters while the majority of fathers invested in their sons.

The favoritism pattern for parents consistently emerged across cultures—the researchers surveyed the U.S. and India—and with different education-related prizes. In addition to delegating treasury bonds, the study asked parents to choose a recipient for inheritance and back-to-school supplies.

Both parents are consistently biased, but fathers appear to be more biased than mothers. Males favored their sons 87 percent of the time as the recipient for school supplies, while only 76 percent of mothers gave their daughters back-to-school items.

The research may have far-reaching implications depending on who controls family financial decisions, reported study author Lambrianos Nikiforidis of the State University of New York at Oneonta.

"If more men are in positions of corporate and political power, this can translate to greater investment in programs and policies that favor men, and have implications in settings such as work, organizations, schools, charities and more," Nikiforidis wrote.

Don't be too hard on parents who insist they love you just the same. Most moms and dads are completely unaware that they're playing favorites with the bank account.

"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," Nikiforidis said. "Even though parents say they do not have a favorite, they also admit they do not actively track investment in each child, which leaves room for bias."