Parental Favoritism: Research Proposal

This Research topic submitted by L. Spencer & Shirley Phillips ( on 2/26/98.

our Research Progress report this week is our Research Proposal. read it and weep!

NS Research Proposal
Shirley Phillips
Christian L. Spencer
February 25, 1998

Charles Darwin first sketched out the idea of kin selection (quick and general definition: the idea that individual will further their genetic interests by favoring those related to them over those who aren?t) while attempting to explain sterility in ants.

The subject of mass sterility in ants had been problematic for his theory of natural selection. Darwin managed to conceptualize the idea
somewhat vaguely (enough so that it was no longer an obstacle to the larger picture of Evolution), but by no means did Darwin provide a theory that could be applied to humans. This would not come until over a century later when British biologist William Hamilton utilized new knowledge in the field of genetics to draw out a theory that could be
applied to humans.

Robert Wright took the theory one step further in his book The Moral Animal. Wright discusses the aspects of kin selection in depth, making some rather bold deductions with little evidence (even then rather circumstantial for the most part). Wright?s predictions concern the ways in which family members interact and how some members are thusly favored. One area that particularly interested us was that of parental favoritism towards certain offspring. Wright discusses favoritism as being based on variables such as gender, socioeconomic status, and relatedness. We have chosen to Research nature?s most basic family relationship, that between parent and offspring. We have limited
our investigation down to gender aspects of parental favoritism (with
other variables therein).

Our Study will look at possible differences in how parents treat offspring based on offspring gender. Contrary to the sociobiological claim that socioeconomic status is a major determining factor in parental favoritism (lower classes will favor females, mid-high classes favor males) we hypothesize that in American culture male offspring will be favored on all socioeconomic levels.

Methods and Materials

Our original intention was to investigate the ways that parents view their children in regard to their gender, and then to determine whether the claims made by Wright were trueãthat this behavior can so be explained by the sociobiological paradigm. However, we recognize that this claim by Wright cannot be empirically measured. We can only measure parental attitudes toward offspring, and then contextualized our findings within a paradigm that we feel reflects the findings of our data. Our ?findings then on whether parental differentiation between the sexes of offspring will not be able to rise above an educated theory.

Our findings on parental attitudes regarding gender, however, will be used to refute or prove our hypothesis.To empirically test our hypothesis, we will employ three different measurements ãan observation of parental behavior, a survey given to parents in regard to the way they treat their children, and a survey given to young adults in regard to their opinion of how their parents treat themselves and their siblings concerning gender.


In many of the studies we have come across, (list them here) it has been determined that mothers and daughters are more often together than mothers and sons, presumably because the female offspring were favored or more easily identified with. Observing merely frequency then will presumably skew the data.

That is why in gathering our data, we will go a step beyond that by not only noting the frequency that an offspring appears with a parent, but also measuring the interaction between the offspring and the parent. We will measure this empirically through the following method.

Observation point

The place in which we will observe these interactions is the
playground located at Kramer school in Oxford, Ohio. Observing
interactions on a playground provides many advantages. It is a public,
free space that is within walking distance from any point within the
immediate town of Oxford. Therefore our results should not only reflect those families with enough money to pay entrance fees or to buy cars to provide transportation (as was the case with the Study done by Adams and Lockard), but also families who can afford either. Also, as the space is public, we can conduct our Research as unobtrusive (and unnoticed) observers. Method of TestingAs in Adams and Lockard?s Study, we will first record the gender of the parent/parents and then of the child/children.

Then, by using a stopwatch, we will record the amount of time the parent spends 1.Gazing or looking at the child1 and 2. physically touching the child.

Already with this approach we foresee a few problems in the actual collecting of the data. As there will be only two observers, we will run into problems when there are more than two children and/or more than one parent. Our other two data collecting methods gather not firsthand information, but secondhand information instead.

We will distribute two different surveys to samples of two different populations. A survey regarding parental favoritism will be given to young adults (see S1). Another survey regarding the treatment of offspring will be given to parents. We originally intended to design
the survey so that there would be questions about treatment and then
columns headed ?male and ?female so that the respondent could answer
each question separately for their male and female offspring. However,
there are a few problems with this approach. First, the respondent could easily recognize that the Study regards the offspring gender and the effect of that on their treatment. We believe that this could possibly skew the data, as no parent wants to admit that s/he discriminates their own child because of his/her gender. This may be especially true in light of the recent effects of the Feminist movement, which contrasts greatly with the values learned earlier in life by middle-age Midwestern Americans.

Second, the categories ?male and female are slightly generic; for instance what if a respondent has three daughters of varying age and one son? To solve the problem, we got rid of the ?male and ?female categories and now ask that the respondent complete the survey in regards to either their firstborn son or daughter. In order to control the amount of each gender?s data we collect we will decide which offspring the parent will answer for. We can then split the surveys
between those regarding female offspring and those regarding males,
analyze the data, and compare and contrast the two.

The second survey will be distributed among young adults and will ask questions in regard to the way in which his/her parents treat them in regard to gender (see S2). The question that remains is that of who our specific sample will be for the two separate surveys. It is this part of the data gathering that we will most likely have to work with the most, depending on the accessibility and amount of responses.It is with our the second survey that we are having the most trouble with regarding the sample group. Ideally, we would like to target teenagers. However, we are unclear about the university?s policies regarding children used as human subjects in a Study. Should we find that we were able to survey high school age students, we would contact area high school teachers who have classes that may be relevant to the Studyãparenting, psychology, and social studies to name a few. Should we find that we are unable to survey this population, we will instead distribute surveys among college students. We are leery of distributing among Western students as many people have been doing, as it is generally well known that when a subject knows the surveyors general hypothesis they tend to give them what they want.

Underclass Western majors and main campus students (as opposed to our peers in the Human Nature classes) might be a better approach for this survey (and any other Human Nature survey).


Stopwatchesãto measure the amount of time parent spends interacting with child.Surveys-distrubute, collect, and analyze.Stat generating
programãto easily analyze the collected data.Literary BackgroundIn our
preliminary Research we have delved into numerous paradigms and backgrounds to get a broad view of the subject. We have done this in
hopes of achieving the best experimental design possible for our own
Research. Particular readings we have found useful thus far:-The Evolution of Human Social Behavior (J. Lockard). This book provided a
wealth of information from the sociological paradigm. It also included
studies with figures and graphs that we could examine for helpful hints as well as errors to avoid.

-The Moral Animal (Robert Wright). Obviously, the course book that introduced the idea to us must be listed here. Wright?s controversial ideas from the field of sociobiology (Evolutionary psychology, whatever) were the spark to get our Study started. We are essentially developing that will provide some hard data to compare with his largely untested claims.
-Gender in Cross Cultural Perspective (Brettell & Sargent). The bulk of our feminist paradigm information has come from this book. AbstractThe topic we Researched and subsequently will empirically investigate is that of offspring gender influence on parental favoritism. Wright claims that in lower socioeconomic classes female offspring are more valued than men due to their reproductive ?Gift which can benefit the family?s status through marrying up (thus acquiring goods from bridewealth), or by increasing the family size through reproduction. We have found both Research that refuted and agreed with this claim. Very often the conclusion depended on the paradigm/context that the information was being viewed from.

We will conduct a Study to assess perceived gender favoritism by offspring and parent. The Study will consist of a survey that will be administered to test our hypothesis stated in the introduction. We will analyze these results and attempt to draw conclusions based on our findings.

Parental Survey Template**Combined Yearly Income (if single parent
circle yours)$0-$20,000 $20,000-$40,000 $40,000-$60,000$60,000-$80,000
$80,000-above**Your sex:**Number of children living with you:**List
their ages and sexes: **Answer the following questions regarding your
eldest ___________.**Offspring?s sex:**Offspring?s age: **Was the child breast fed or bottle fed during the early months of infancy? (circle one)**What types of things would you like your offspring to inherit in your will?**What occupation(s) would you like to see your offspring become?**At what age do think your offspring should begin having children?**At what age do you think it is acceptable for your offspring to have sex?**What method did/do you use to punish the child (if more than one answer, number 1 through 5 according to what method is used most):Spanking or other corporal punishment- Explaining/reasoning- Timeout/Isolation- Grounding- Raising Voice- **At what age will you allow your offspring to:Go out alone?Go out on a date?Bring Home Page a boyfriend/girlfriend?Teen Survey Template**Age:**Sex:**How many siblings do you have?**Ages and sexes of siblings: **Estimated Guardians? combined income (or solo income if you only live with one parent):Circle one$0-$20,000 $20,000-$40,000 $40,000-$60,000$60,000-$80,000 $80,000-above Don?t Know**How restrictive of your activities would you say your parents are (or were as a teenager):Circle oneVery restrictive mildly restrictive slightly restrictive not very restrictive unrestrictive very unrestrictive don?t know**What types of occupations do/did your parents encourage you to pursue?**What method did/do was used to punish you as a child (if more than one answer, number 1 through 5 according to what method is used most):Spanking or other corporal punishment- Explaining/reasoning- Timeout/Isolation- Grounding- Raising Voice- **At what age did your parents first allow you to:Go out alone?Go out on a date?

Bring Home Page a boyfriend/girlfriend?BANG!!!!

Christian and shirley

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