Washington, Apr 18 : When there are younger kids in the family, parents are more likely to punish older kids' risky behavior in a bid to set a strict example, says a new game theory research.
In the study, the research team from the University of Maryland, Duke University and The Johns Hopkins University, used economic game theory to predict levels of parental discipline.
The researchers predicted that parental concern for their "reputation" as a disciplinarian with the younger children would be a powerful motivator.
This is especially true in the case of the older children, who expect stronger penalties because their parents are making an example of them.
But as the younger siblings grow up and the "games" get played out a second or third time, the parent's resolve tends to dwindle, the researchers say.
"Tender-hearted parents find it harder and harder to engage in 'tough love' as they have fewer young children in the house, since they have less incentive to uphold reputations as disciplinarians," said University of Maryland economist, Ginger Gin, one of three co-authors of the study, and herself an older sister and a parent of two.
"As a result, the theory predicts that last-born and only children, knowing that they can get away with much more than their older brothers and sisters, are, on average, more likely to engage in risky behaviors," she added.
The study, "Games Parents and Adolescents Play," is co-authored by V. Joseph Hotz, an economics professor at Duke; Lingxin Hao, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins; and Jin at Maryland.
To test the reputational theory, the research team analyzed existing survey data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The National Longitudinal Study of Youth tracked more than 11,000 Americans for over 16 years (1979 to 1994). Specifically they focused on the rate of pregnancy and the teen dropping out of high school. To estimate parental sanction, they measured whether the teen was allowed to remain at home and level of financial support after reaching age 18.
In their analysis, the researchers found that having one additional younger sibling lowers the likelihood of an adolescent s dropping out of high school by 3 percentage points.
The probability of parental financial support to a rebellious child is significantly lower if the family still has another child under age 18, the study found.
The study concludes that the exercise of parental control is effective in modifying the risky adolescent behavior.
The study is published in the Economic Journal.