A Mother’s Favorite Child Can Be More Likely to Develop Depression

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If you have brothers or sisters, you have probably argued over who her favorite is. However, according to a new research study, being mom’s favorite isn’t necessarily a good thing, because it can increase a person’s risk of depression. Jill Suitor, a co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN and her colleagues published the findings in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

Research Study

The study done by Dr. Suitor included 725 adult children from 309 families, who participated in the Within-Family Differences Study, a longitudinal project that strives to gain knowledge about the relationship between parents and their adult children.

The mothers in these families were between the ages of 65 and 75 years of age in 2001, when the study first started. Data on the adult child’s perception of favoritism and disfavoritism from mothers were reviewed and assessed with seven years lapsing in between the studies.

Specifically, the research team looked for information on four measures of favoritism and disfavoritism; child’s perception of emotional closeness with the mother, their perception of problems and conflict, their perception of parental pride from the mother and their perception of disappointment. Researchers also reviewed any symptoms of depression among the adult children.

Sibling Rivalry

Dr. Suitor and the team found out that the largest reports of depression came from children who thought they were emotionally closer to their mother than their siblings and those who thought they were the sibling the mother was most disappointed with.
The team believes rivalry between siblings could be the reason for higher depression in those that believed they were their mother’s favorites for emotional closeness, or it could be due to having increased feelings of responsibility for the emotional care of an aging mother.

Researchers also reviewed and analyzed the data according to race; they were able to ascertain that the increased level of closeness between aging mothers and adult children occurred more frequently in African American families. Around 25 percent of families participating in the study were African American.

Of these findings, Dr. Suitor states, “What we found suggests that the black offspring were particularly distressed when they, as opposed to their siblings, were the children in whom mothers were most disappointed.

Others on the research team say,” These patterns suggests that the association between psychological well-being and favoritism and disfavoritism can be accounted for by processes involving social comparison rather than equality for both black and white adult children in midlife.”

Future Research:

The next step is for the team to investigate if a similar result happens when studying adult children’s thoughts on favoritism and their fathers. The team also wishes to see if they can predict favoritism between a mother and adult children.

In September 2015, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested young children of parents who are more tactile, warm and less controlling ae more likely to grow up well-adjusted, have greater life satisfaction and mental-well-being in adulthood.


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