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Family Characteristics & Social Inequality

Negligible Evidence That People Desire Partners Who Uniquely Fit Their Ideals

Although people often express strong preferences for traits and behaviors they desire in their romantic partners, do people choose romantic partners based on these preferences? In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, social psychologists and IPR associates Eli Finkel, Daniel Molden, and their colleagues conducted two studies to answer this question. For each study, participants first listed their top three ideal qualities in a partner. In study 1, they then went on a blind date with someone they had never met and in study 2, they then brought to mind five people they already knew, including a current romantic partner if they had one. In both studies, participants next rated the partners they met or brought to mind against their chosen ideals, and also against a set of ideals chosen by another participant in the study. Finally, in both studies, everyone reported on their romantic interest in their partners. If people’s ideal qualities in a partner do predict their romantic interests, the partners they were most interested in romantically would match their own unique ideals more closely than the unique ideal qualities generated by someone else. However, in both studies, the researchers found that although participants were more romantically interested in partners if they believed these individuals possessed the ideal qualities rated, this was true whether judging their own chosen qualities or someone else’s. The unique ideals people said they desired did not uniquely predict the romantic interest they expressed.  The researchers conclude that real-life evaluation of romantic partners is complex and that what people say they look for in a partner and what they actually like may differ. 

It Takes a Village: The Economics of Parenting with Neighborhood and Peer Effects 

How does parenting style influence adolescents? In a working paper, economist and IPR associate Matthias Doepke and his colleagues examine the impacts of parenting decisions in shaping a child’s peer group. They hypothesize that parents are stricter when they believe their children are interacting with peers that may negatively impact skills for success, such as homework completion and motivation to work hard. To test this hypothesis, the researchers use a model where children’s development depends on both parent and peer interaction, and parents can determine whom their children interact with. Data were collected from the 1994–95 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). The researchers’ hypothesis was sound, as parents intervened more in a child’s peer interactions when concerned that their children’s peers were “bad apples.” They also found that stricter parenting allowed for more control over which peers children interacted with but could also lessen parental influence on children’s skill formation. Conversely, more relaxed parenting styles allowed for less control over children’s peer groups but had a stronger impact on children’s skill formation. In terms of policy, the researchers find that large-scale peer interventions like busing, where children were moved to a better neighborhood school, lost their impact. Bussed children  were more likely to stick together instead of integrating with new peers, and parents at the receiving school became stricter to prevent their children from befriending bussed children. 

Fathers’ Willingness to Spend Money on Their Daughters

Father and daughter readingDo mothers and fathers spend different amounts of money on their children? In a working paper, IPR economist Seema Jayachandran and Rebecca Dizon-Ross of the University of Chicago examine if and why fathers spend less on their daughters’ health and education compared to their mothers. The researchers surveyed one randomly-selected parent from 1,084 households with children in rural Uganda in March–May 2013 and returned to 729 of the households to interview the other parent between September–October 2013. Respondents were asked whether they wanted to purchase an item for their children, such as a math workbook, shoes, medicine, a toy ball, or candy, for a variety of prices. They find fathers were less willing to spend money on their daughters compared to their sons when it comes to human capital items like math workbooks and medicine. Mothers spend slightly more on these items on their daughters versus their sons. Fathers’ willingness to pay for goods that bring enjoyment such as toys and candy was also lower for their daughters, suggesting that the difference is driven by preference, rather than a desire to invest in the human capital of their sons. Mothers showed no difference in their willingness to pay for items that brought enjoyment for their daughters compared to their sons. The results are similar to other research showing that men and women have same-gender favoritism for their children. Because husbands typically control more resources than their wives, this favoritism hurts girls. Gains in women’s influence in household decisions could help allocate resources more fairly between boys and girls.

Paternal Caregiving in Cebu

Can researchers predict how much time fathers devote to childcare? In Evolution and Human Behavior, IPR anthropologists Christopher Kuzawa and Thomas McDade and their colleagues examine family-caregiving patterns in Cebu, Philippines, and test the facultative fathering hypothesis, which states that fathers’ childcare is responsive to local factors. They expect Cebuano fathers to spend more time on childcare when they work fewer hours, receive less assistance from alloparents (nonparental caregivers), live further from their wife’s family, and have more children. The researchers used questionnaire data collected in 2014 from the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey (CLHNS) and focused on 430 households. Fathers self-reported how many hours they spent on various childcare tasks, while mothers answered questions about other caregivers. The researchers organized 12 childcare tasks into three categories: routine caregiving (bathing and grooming), recreational (playing and singing), and educational (helping with homework). The researchers find that fathers who worked more parented less, and fathers with higher education parented more. For example, unemployed men reported spending 8.36 hours per week on caregiving, while fathers who worked 80+ hours per week reported spending 4.16 hours. Caregiving tasks also appeared responsive to the child’s age. Fathers spent more time on routine caregiving with younger kids and more time on educational caregiving with older kids. Paternal care did not appear responsive to the family’s residence, alloparents, or the number of children. The study underscores how paternal caregiving is responsive to some locally-relevant predictors and shows what family dynamics look like in a large-scale society. Kuzawa is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Anthropology. McDade is the Carlos Montezuma Professor of Anthropology.