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Maternal Competition in Women

Abstract

We examined maternal competition, an unexplored form of competition between women. Given women’s high investment in offspring and mothers’ key role in shaping their reproductive, social, and cultural success as adults, we might expect to see maternal competition between women as well as mate competition. Predictions about the effect of maternal characteristics (age, relationship status, educational background, number of children, investment in the mothering role) and child variables (age, sex) were drawn from evolutionary theory and sociological research. Mothers of primary school children (in two samples: N = 210 and 169) completed a series of questionnaires. A novel nine-item measure of maternal competitive behavior (MCQ) and two subscales assessing Covert (MCQ-C) and Face-to-Face (MCQ-FF) forms of competition were developed using confirmatory factor analysis. Competitiveness (MCQ score) was predicted by maternal investment, single motherhood, fewer children, and (marginally) child’s older age. The effect of single motherhood (but not other predictors) was partially mediated by greater maternal investment. In response to a scenario of their child underperforming relative to their peers, a mother’s competitive distress was a positive function of the importance she ascribed to their success and her estimation of her child’s ability. Her competitive distress was highly correlated with the distress she attributed to a female friend, hinting at bidirectional dyadic effects. Qualitative responses indicated that nonspecific bragging and boasting about academic achievements were the most common irritants. Although 40% of women were angered or annoyed by such comments, less than 5% endorsed a direct hostile response. Instead, competitive mothers were conversationally shunned and rejected as friends. We suggest that the interdependence of mothers based on reciprocal childcare has supported a culture of egalitarianism that is violated by explicit competitiveness.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

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Correspondence to Anne Campbell.

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Linney, C., Korologou-Linden, L. & Campbell, A. Maternal Competition in Women. Hum Nat 28, 92–116 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-016-9279-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-016-9279-2

Keywords

  • Mothers
  • Maternal competition
  • Women
  • Reproductive success
  • Reproductive investment