When times are tough, it seems that parents show a financial preference to daughters over sons. According to a recent study at the Carlson School of Management, girls are more likely to receive monetary assets and enrollment in beneficial programs from their parents than their male counterparts.

The study had 629 participants read a news article that described the state of the economy in one of three ways — improving, remaining the same, or getting worse. Afterward, they were asked to divide their assets between an imaginary son and daughter, and to assign only one of them to a beneficial program.

The participants that were lead to believe there were tough economic times ahead allocated almost 60 percent of their assets to the girl, whereas those who were given the article about a neutral economy split their resources about 50/50.

"Almost all parents say that they don't favor one of their children over another, but economic recessions subconsciously lead parents to prefer girls over boys," said Rutgers professor of marketing Kristina Durante, lead author of the study, in a press release.

Real life spending seemed to be right in line with the results of the experiment. Examining the relationship between the U.S. Real GDP and retail spending on boys and girls allowed researchers to find a trend — when the economy was struggling, the ratio of spending on girls versus boys increased 19.8 percent compared to when the economy was doing well.

The tendency to spend more on daughters may be instinctively based, as the way humans reacted to tough times was very similar to some other species.

"These findings in humans align well with the behavior of other animals," said Professor Vladas Griskevicius of the Carlson School in the press release. "When resources are scarce parents prefer females because they have a larger reproductive payoff. Almost every female child will produce some offspring, but many male children end up having zero offspring."

Another part of the study seemed to confirm this origin of the partiality toward girls by looking at the relationship between age and asset allocation. The bias toward females was stronger as the children moved closer to reproductive age.

This research offers information valuable for both domestic and commercial use. In the home, simply being aware of intrinsic biases can help parents carefully manage how they spend money on their children. From a business standpoint, acknowledging parents’ natural inclination to favor girls during hard times could benefit marketers and advertisers.

"When we survey parents, it's very clear they want to treat their children equally," said Associate Professor Joseph Redden of the Carlson School in the press release. "But if they're relying on feelings for how they're allocating resources, it's very likely this bias is seeping in, especially when times are tougher and they don't have money to do everything.”

Source: Durante K, et al. When times are tough, parents favor daughters over sons. Journal of Consumer Research. 2015.