Adult children who felt they were emotionally closer to their mother than their siblings were more likely to show signs of depression.
Study coauthor Jill Suitor, a professor of sociology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, and colleagues publish their findings in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.
The study involved 725 adult children from 309 families who were a part of the Within-Family Differences Study - a longitudinal project that aims to gain a better understanding of the relationship between parents and their adult children.
Mothers in each family were aged between 65-75 in 2001 when the study began, and data on children's perceptions of favoritism and disfavoritism from mothers were assessed 7 years apart.
Specifically, the researchers looked at data on four measures of favoritism and disfavoritism: children's perception of emotional closeness with their mother, their perception of conflict, their perception of pride from their mother, and their perception of disappointment. The team also assessed depressive symptoms among the children.
Sibling rivalry due to favoritism may induce depressive symptoms
The team found the highest reports of depressive symptoms came from children who believed they were emotionally closer to their mother than their siblings and those who believed they were the sibling their mother was most disappointed in.The researchers believe sibling rivalry may be to blame for the higher depression among those who believed they were favored by their mother for emotional closeness, or it may stem from increased feelings of responsibility for the emotional care of older mothers.
The team also analyzed their findings by race; they explain that previous studies have demonstrated higher levels of closeness between older mothers and adult children in black families. Around a quarter of the families in the study were black.
"What we found suggests that the black offspring were particularly distressed when they, as opposed to their siblings, were the children in whom mothers were most disappointed," says Suitor.
Commenting on the take-home message from their results, the authors say:
"These patterns suggest that the association between psychological well-being and both favoritism and disfavoritism can be accounted for by processes involving social comparison rather than equity for both black and white adult children in midlife."
Next, the team plans to investigate whether similar results arise from studying adult children's perceptions of favoritism and disfavoritsm from fathers. They also want to study whether they can predict favoritism between mothers and adult children.
In September, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggests young children of parents who are warmer and less controlling are more likely to have greater life satisfaction and mental well-being in adulthood.
And more recently, a controversial study reported by MNT suggests children of religious parents are less likely to be generous than those of non-religious parents.