Dads are ‘more attentive’ to toddler girls than boys, study claims

US research suggests dads get more competitive with their sons, and more emotional with their daughters...


Do dads pay more attention to their toddler daughters, than they do to their sons?


A stark claim – but the answer is apparently yes, according to a study by researchers at Emory University and the University of Arizona in the US.

The research was conducted with 52 fathers (30 had girls, while 22 had boys), who were asked to wear a digital recorder on their belts so that one weekday and one weekend day’s worth of father-child interactions could be recorded.

“Striking differences” between the ways dads interacted with girls and boys were found in the results – including:

  • the fact that 60% of dads spent more time “attentively responding” to their daughters than their sons
  • they sang and whistled 5 times more with their toddler girls
  • the dads spoke more openly about emotions, including feeling sad, with their daughters
  • they used ‘achievement-related language’ with their sons more, so words like ‘proud’, ‘best’ and ‘win’
  • words describing body parts were used more with little girls than boys
  • dads of boys engaged in more rough and tumble play 3 times as much as they did with girls.

Now, we have to take these results with a grain of salt, as it’s quite a small study, and the subjects (the dads) were aware of the fact they were being recorded.

Though the lead researcher, assistant professor Jennifer Mascaro, claimed that people “act shockingly normal” while wearing the device.

“We should be aware of how unconscious notions of gender can play into the way we treat even very young children,”Jennifer said of her findings.

“There is plenty of evidence that differences exist in the behaviour, aptitudes and toy preferences of boys and girls from an early age.”

(Our own study on toy preferences in young children found the opposite – a preference for gender-stereotypical toys like dolls for girls and cars for boys wasn’t really evident until the children hit school age.)

“The question is always how meaningful are those differences. It’s a really thorny thing to understand. As soon as they come into the world they are part of a society that has huge biases in how we interact with males and females.”

Well, we reckon these results are really interesting, and it got us thinking: have we ever absent-mindedly treated our girls and boys differently?

What do you think?

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