In Rocky Economic Times, Parents Favour Daughters Over Sons

When times are tough, daughters should apparently fear less.

New research has shown that parents financially favour their daughters over sons in tough economic times.

Researchers at the Carlson School of Management and Rutgers Business School found that participants preferred to enroll a daughter rather than a son in beneficial programs, to give a U.S. Treasury bond to a daughter rather than a son, and left a greater share of their assets to their daughters in their will when they perceived economic conditions to be poor.

In one experiment, 629 participants were asked to read a news article that described the economy as either improving, getting worse, or neutral. They were then asked to draft an imaginary will and divide their assets between a fictional son and daughter, and to assign one to a beneficial program. In the belief of tough economic times, people apparently thought the females could use a little more help, and allocated 60 per cent of their available resources to their daughters.

This is compared to a near 50/50 split between the two kids in times of neutral or prosperous economic conditions.

That’s not to say they love their daughters more.

“Almost all parents say that they don’t favour one of their children over another, but economic recessions subconsciously lead parents to prefer girls over boys,” said Rutgers professor of marketing Kristina Durante, lead author of the study.

Apparently, it comes down to biology.

“These findings in humans align well with the behavior of other animals,” says Professor Vladas Griskevicius of the Carlson School. “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.”

This view is confirmed by the fact that the bias toward females was stronger as the children moved closer to reproductive age.

To complement their research findings, the researchers also examined the relationship between U.S. Real GDP and retail spending on apparel for boys and girls between the years 1984 and 2011. As expected, in times of economic turmoil, the ratio of spending on girls versus boys increased 19.8 per cent compared to healthier economic times.

While the findings don’t apply to many of us yet, they are important to keep in mind in the future – or if you’re in marketing.