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Keywords:

  • intergenerational relations;
  • parental favoritism;
  • parent–child relations in adulthood

The importance of parental favoritism in childhood and adulthood has been well documented; little is known, however, about changes over time in such within-family differentiation. Drawing on theories of life course processes and developmental psychology, the authors used 7-year panel data collected from 406 older mothers about their relationships with 1,514 adult children to explore patterns of favoritism regarding caregiving and emotional closeness. The findings demonstrated continuity in patterns of mothers' favoritism. Mothers tended to prefer the same children across time, particularly regarding preferred caregivers. It was anticipated that children's social-structural characteristics, similarity to their mothers, structural position in the family, and support provision to mothers would predict favored child status across time; however, only similarity and support processes were strong and consistent predictors of change and continuity in patterns of mothers' favoritism.