Parents do have a favourite child, says new study

Child Photo: Getty Images

While it's perfectly acceptable for a child to favour a parent, a new study found parents have a golden child too. 

The study, published in the journal of family and psychology, examined perceived preferential treatment based on birth order and how this affects siblings.

Researchers collected data from 384 adolescent sibling pairs and their parents over three years. And, while most parents won't admit they have a favourite to their children, 74 per cent of mums and 70 per cent of dads said, for the sake of science, they tend to favour one child.

Though they didn't say which child, according to their children and the study's results, they didn't have to, with younger siblings sensing favouritism towards the first-born sibling, causing their self-esteem to suffer. However, being favoured didn't have an effect on first-borns' self-esteem.

Family sociologist and lead author of the study, Katherine Conger, told Quartz she was "surprised by that".

"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," she said.

That said, most kids feel like they have been treated unfairly at some point.

"Everyone feels their brother or sister is getting a better deal," Conger said. "Regardless of how you look at it, both [first and later-born kids] are perceiving preferential treatment."

Despite these findings, a study published last year found children who are perceived as being the favourite can have an increased risk of depression.


"There is a cost for those who perceive they are the closest emotionally to their mothers," said Jill Suitor, a professor of sociology, "and these children report higher depressive symptoms."

How to avoid favouritism

  • spend one-on-one time with all of your kids
  • listen to them all too
  • share yourself around
  • make sure they know that you're there for them, even at times when they don't need you