While many people with siblings would be hard-pressed to get their parents to admit they played favorites with their children, new research proves they most likely do.
As part of her longitudinal study started in 1989, sociologist Katherine Conger of the University of California, Davis and her team asked 384 adolescent sibling pairs about their relationships with their parents and how any perceived difference in treatment between the siblings may have affected their self-esteem. The researchers also interviewed the siblings’ parents.
The results, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, showed that parents do play favorites. Seventy percent of fathers and 74% of mothers reported giving preferential treatment to one child.
Interestingly, the sibling pairs’ answers revealed that parental favoritism tended to affect younger siblings’ self-esteem more than that of firstborns, who tended to feel preferred.
“I was a little surprised by that,” Conger told Quartz. “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.”
Although she found that parents do have favorites, she also found that most every child, regardless of their birth order, felt they received the raw end from their parents. So while parents do prefer some of their children over their others, it doesn’t really matter because everyone thinks the grass is greener on the other side.
“Everyone feels their brother or sister is getting a better deal,” Conger said. “Regardless of how you look at it, both [earlier and later-born kids] are perceiving preferential treatment.”