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Fighting for Affection: Children Can Tell when Fathers Favor One over the Other

Update Date: Jul 09, 2013 04:32 PM EDT

In a new study, researchers looked at the influence of parent favoritism on sibling relationships. Previous studies tended to focus more on the mothers' effect on children. In this study, researchers decided to focus on the father's role and how his preferences between his children impact the family.

The researchers from Purdue University looked at data of 137 later-life families. All families still had living parents who were in their 70s and 80s, with the fathers being an average of three years older than the mothers. The average age of the siblings, with 341 of them from these families, was 49-years-old. The adult children who were interviewed were considered to be baby boomers. The researchers administered questionnaires that asked them about tension between siblings as well as perceived favoritism.

"It didn't matter who fathers favored. When favoritism was perceived there was tension among siblings, especially daughters," said Megan Gilligan, a Purdue doctoral student in sociology and lead author, reported by Medical Xpress. "Often the role of fathers is overlooked in these older relationships, but what we found shows dads do matter."

"The importance of fathers' favoritism may come from these older adults noticing many of their friends' fathers no longer living, so they may value their dads even more than before; they realize their time together is limited," added Jill Suitor, a professor of sociology and co-author of the study.

The researchers found that children who believed that their fathers favored another child were bothered by this fact. It created increased tension between siblings, which could hurt the dynamics of the family. The researchers collected their data, which was based from the Within-Family Difference study that recruited people from the Boston metropolitan area. The researchers are not sure if their findings could be generalized to the children of this current generation. The team plans on questioning the children of the baby boomer to investigate the effects of a father's favoritism today.

The findings were published in the Journal of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences

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