By Darby Saxbe, published on September 1, 2003 - last reviewed on March 23, 2007
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.
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.