Developmental studies have established that the family can no longer be looked upon as a homogenous unit; rather it must be conceived as the presence of microenvironments and niches. This study intends to determine differences in parental treatment of children depending on birth order and gender of the child and gender of the parent. Respective differences between joint parental treatment of children and individual parental treatment were also noted. The study tests differences between first-born and later-born children, with the findings of first-born children being high relatable to the treatment of an only child.
Two equally sized sample groups used in a study totaling fifty-eight families participating. All of these families classified as affluent middle class, which is determined by the education of the father. All of the women started reproduction in their late twenties, with the decision to become pregnant planned and desired. First-born families comprised twenty-nine of the families with sixteen boys and thirteen girls. An equal amount of later-born families participated with nineteen boys and ten girls. A majority of the later-born children were second-born, with only six of these children being third-born.
The study observed the presence of mothers, the presence of fathers, and face to face behavior of fathers with mothers as a means of measuring parental behavior. Birth-order preference offered the most pronounced data; with the existence of a distinct preference of first-born children over later-born children. Analysis of gender-related preference supported the same sex hypothesis; mothers preferred daughters while fathers preferred sons. However, fathers preferred daughters in terms of face-to-face behavior and preferred sons in the terms of presence. Consequently, first-born boys receive the most attention in reference to the simultaneous presence of both mother and father.
I found it most interesting that fathers preferred their daughters in face-to-face behavior to sons, but preferred the sons in preference to presence and attention. The cause or psychological reasoning behind this preference would be interesting to study further. I also found it interesting that first-born boys received the most attention, partially accounted by the preference previously mentioned.
Since the samples were unanimously composed of participants from affluent middle class backgrounds, a particular inclination and motivation for parental care exists, therefore not providing an accurate representation of lower-class and higher-class parenting trends. All the families consisted of both a mother and a father, with the mothers normally having at least one full year of maternity leave as is typical in Germany, the country which the study was conducted. It would be interesting to see the results related to single parents, working families with little maternity leave, extremely affluent families, and families of different cultures. The most significant constraint of the study is the relatively small number of samples, although the authors feel that this did not cause a detriment to the results.
The study concluded that a distinct preference of firstborn children existed which coordinates with the general evolutionary perfection of the high status of the firstborn. Mothers are less sensitive in their interactions with later-born children in comparison first born children, according to quotation in a study by Andeweg & Van Den Berg (2003). The novelty of the child rearing experience diminishes with the introduction of the second child and many of the anxieties and concerns experienced by parents have been proven overprotective by the results of the first child. All of the results relating to firstborn children apply to only children except a newborn is never introduced. The chance for a second child to be favored or a child of the opposite gender to gain the attention of the same-gendered parent does not exist.