Rules for Dating My Daughter

Parents are well known for meddling in their kids' love lives—consider the reality show Meet My Folks or the sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. Two studies suggest that parents are more likely to interfere in their daughters' dating choices, especially in steering them toward high-achieving mates.

At Indiana State University, Virgil Sheets, associate professor of psychology, surveyed some 300 students, asking whether their parents had ever encouraged or discouraged a dating prospect. More than half of the students said their parents had. Daughters noted more "influence attempts," especially of the discouraging variety. Daughters also described more pressure to date men from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, while sons were slightly more likely to have been encouraged to date attractive people.

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Another study, conducted at Sam Houston State University by Michael Baker, an undergraduate, and Rowland Miller, professor of psychology, asked more than 200 parents to rate characteristics that their child's mate should possess. The researchers found that parents prized ambitiousness more in their daughters' mates than in those of their sons'. And fathers but not mothers sought "sexy" partners for their sons, not their daughters.

Why the gender discrepancies? Both sets of researchers use evolutionary arguments, citing parents' desire to safeguard the survival of future grandchildren. Parents want their daughters hitched to good providers, and their sons with fertile, i.e. "sexy," women. But Miller believes that parental standards may change as society does. The "overarching story," says Miller, "is that parents value stable, reliable and warm partners. The sex differences only appear as you move farther down the list" of desired attributes.

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