As parents, we like to think that we love and treat our children equally. But could it be that when it comes to spending money for our sons and daughters, we are deeply biased?

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How much do dads favor their sons and moms favor their daughters?

New research, due to be published in the January 2018 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, suggests that when it comes to spending money, mothers may be positively biased toward their daughters, and fathers toward their sons.

In other words, same-sex bias seems to influence parents' spending habits, despite existing studies showing that nearly all parents deny ever acting in a biased way.

The first author of the study is Lambrianos Nikiforidis, a marketing professor at the School of Economics and Business at the State University of New York in Oneonta.

Prof. Nikiforidis and colleagues conducted four studies investigating whether or not parents favor children according to their sex.

Three studies confirm parental same-sex bias

The first study involved a hypothetical scenario that 250 participants were invited to take part in. In it, parents were given the opportunity to win a $50 gift card and were asked to which of their hypothetical two children they would offer the money.

Choosing between a boy and a girl, they were asked the following questions: "If you have enough resources to invest in only one of your children, whom would you invest your limited resources in?" and "If you had to divide limited resources between your two children, how would you divide them?"

In this first study, fathers chose their son as the recipient of the money almost 62 percent percent of the time, while mothers chose their daughter 71 percent of the time.

The second study was no longer hypothetical, in the sense that it involved "real" parents and their children. Fifty-two parents were invited to a zoo in North America with their children and were asked to take part in a survey.

The survey offered them the chance to win a prize for their children: the parents were invited to choose whether they wanted a back-to-school pack for their son or for their daughter.

This experiment was conducted at the beginning of the school year.

In this second study, mothers chose the daughter almost 76 percent of the time, while fathers chose their son 87 percent of the time.

In the next study, the third, the researchers wanted to see whether the reason for these biases was a stronger personal identification with the sex of the children.

So, they added "identification" as a mediating factor for their analysis. This meant that in addition to a hypothetical scenario similar to that of the first experiment, the parents were asked questions such as, "Whom do you identify with more, your son or your daughter?"

Then, in order to see whether answers to such questions actually determined spending biases, the researchers applied a so-called bootstrapping procedure.

This analysis also proved the researchers' hypothesis, showing that fathers did identify more with their sons, and mothers with their daughters.

"More importantly," the authors write, "there was a significant indirect effect via identification."

Same-sex bias occurs across cultures

Finally, in the fourth experiment, Prof. Nikiforidis and team wanted to see whether the results from these first three experiments would be replicated in a different culture.

So, they recruited 412 parents of children of different sexes from Amazon's MTurk database. Of these, 195 were based in the United States, and 217 were based in India.

They all had to choose to which of their children they would give a U.S. treasury bond of $25. Additionally, participants had to answer questions about psychological identification similar to those in the third experiment.

In this experiment, too, "parents in both countries systematically gave the treasury bond more often to the child sharing their sex, compared [with] the parents of the opposite sex."

Overall, all four studies confirmed the hypothesis that "[f]athers favor sons and mothers favor daughters," and this effect was seen across two different cultures.

Study co-author Kristina Durante, a professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey, says that this "robust effect" may extend beyond the household.

"If a woman is responsible for promotion decisions in the workplace," she says, "female employees may be more likely to benefit. The reverse may be true if men are in charge of such decisions."

"If this gender bias influences decisions related to charitable giving, college savings, promotions, and politics, then it can have profound implications and is something we can potentially correct going forward."

Prof. Kristina Durante