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Undisciplined: The Parent Rap

Mary Cassatt, The Child's Bath. 1893. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Today on the program, we are talking to Jill Suitor, one of the founders of a nearly 20 year old study focused on the relationships parents have with their adult children and, in particular, their favorite children. Yes, it's true parents have favorites. And children are often wrong about who that favorite is.

When sociologists Jill Suitor and Karl Pillemer first proposed a study to better understand the factors that go into making somebody's favorite child, they were repeatedly told that it just wouldn't work. Even if it was true that parents did have favorites, what mother or father was going to admit to it? Well, that was almost 20 years ago, and this family differences study has been extremely successful offering findings that have resulted in the publication of more than 60 journal articles, hundreds of media reports and a popular TED Talk. Why all the interest? Well, it might be because the study pulls back the curtain on something we all know but we don't really talk about. Parents often have favorites. But Suitor says children are often wrong about who the favorite is, and what being a favorite actually means. Jill Suitor is joining us on the line from Indiana where she is a distinguished professor of sociology at Purdue University.

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including the New York Times best-selling Lifespan with geneticist David Sinclair and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His first solo book, Superlative, looks at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways, and his is currently at work on another book about embracing the inevitability of human-caused climate change with an optimistic outlook on the future.