Lead author Megan Gilligan, a doctoral student in sociology, and co-author Jill Suitor, a professor of sociology, both of Purdue University, looked at 137 later-life families with both parents still alive when the data was collected in 2008. The parents were in their 70s and 80s, and the fathers were an average of three years older than the mothers.
The average age of the 341 siblings was 49, and they were asked about tension among each other and the perceived favoritism by their parents.
This research is based on survey data from the Within-Family Difference Study -- led by Karl Pillemer, a professor at the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University and Suitor -- used to evaluate the role favoritism plays in adult family relationships. The data for the 13-year project were collected in the Boston metropolitan area.
"Fathers are important figures in families, and the father-child relationship is sometimes more tenuous than the mother-child tie," Suitor said in a statement. "Mothers are often more open and affectionate with their children, whereas fathers have sometimes been found to be more critical, leading offspring to be more concerned when fathers favor some children over others."
This could play a role in why daughters experience more tension with their siblings when fathers favor them, the researchers said.
"The gender difference may occur because fathers, as other studies have shown, often invest more in their sons, thus, the favoritism shown toward daughters may violate these norms and result in greater sibling tension."
The findings were published in the July issue of the Journal of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.