Sociobiology, status, and parental investment in sons and daughters: Testing the Trivers-Willard hypothesis

Jeremy Freese*, Brian Powell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


While some dismiss sociobiological theories as untestable, post hoc explanations, this article argues that sociologists should instead increase their efforts to identify and engage those theories that have novel empirical implications. Regarding parental investment, Trivers and Willard use Darwinian reasoning to hypothesize that high-status parents favor sons over daughters and that low-status parents favor daughters over sons. The application of this hypothesis to contemporary societies has been widely accepted by sociobiologists, although it has received little actual empirical scrutiny. The Trivers-Willard hypothesis is tested in this study using two nationally representative surveys of American adolescents and their parents. Across several different measures of investment, little evidence of the predicted parental investment behaviors is found. This article seeks not only to contribute to settling the empirical point at issue but also to encourage a renewed and empirically focused dialogue between sociologists and sociobiologists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1704-1743
Number of pages40
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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