Why you may have a favourite child

favourite child

If you have a sibling, chances are you’ve teased each other at some point about who was your parents’ favourite. It turns out that one of you is probably right.

Not many parents will readily admit to having a preferred child, at least publicly. Yet many parents do favour a child, research suggests – and it’s often the eldest. Now, a new study has set about to figure out whether firstborns do in fact tend to be the golden child, and why.

Researchers from the US interviewed 388 families with two children in their early and middle teen years, born no more than four years apart. They interviewed them annually for three years, the Huffington Post reports.

They asked parents how their children differed academically and which was better at schoolwork, as well as questions about other family dynamics. They also looked at the children’s most recent report cards.

The team, from Brigham Young and Pennsylvania State universities, found 48 per cent of parents considered their eldest child to be the most academically gifted – even if that wasn’t reflected in their school reports. Only a third thought the youngest was more competent at school. About 19 per cent rated their children equally. Parents whose youngest child was a girl and oldest was a boy were more likely to consider the girl more academically capable.

One of the most interesting findings over the three years was that children generally ended up living up to their parents’ expectations over time. So if parents favoured one child, his or her grades eventually improved more than their sibling’s results. So the less-favourite child may underperform because of their parents’ low expectations, the researchers say. However, children’s actual results were unlikely to sway parents’ beliefs on who was the more academically inclined child.

The study finds parents may show a bias towards firstborns because they expect more of them, or because they are doing more advanced work at school and therefore seem more impressive. “By the time later-born children hit learning milestones, parents may view their achievements as only to-be-expected,” the study says.

I can count on one hand the number of conversations I’ve had with other parents about whether we have a “favourite” child (my answer is usually that it depends on their age, the day and the time of day!). Even though we may not like to discuss it, this study would suggest it’s actually widespread – whether we know it or not.

Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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