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Mother-in-Law Daughter-in-Law Conflict: an Evolutionary Perspective and Report of Empirical Data from the USA


Relationships with genetic relatives have been extensively studied in the evolutionary social sciences, but affinal, i.e., in-laws, relationships have received much less attention. Yet, humans have extensive interactions with the kin of their mates, leading to many opportunities for cooperative and conflictual interactions with extended kinship networks. To contribute to the scholarship on affinal bonds, and particularly on perceptions of affinal conflict, we collected empirical data on cooperation and conflict among affines. Here, we report empirical evidence of self-reported cooperative and conflictual aspects in affinal relationships in a Western sample. US men and women both reported more conflict with mothers-in-law than with mothers, and mothers reported more conflict with their daughters-in-law than with their daughters. We discuss the implications of this work and directions for future research.

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We would like to thank Lee Cronk for his helpful comments on this manuscript. Thee first author would also like to thank Kyle Haiges and her fantastic mother-in-law Deb Patrick for their support and discussions throughout this project.

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Authors and Affiliations



JDA, JAK, NH, and AA conceived of and created the study materials. JDA collected the data, analyzed the results, supervised ethnography coding, and wrote the manuscript. JAK, NH, and AA edited and reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jessica D. Ayers.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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All studies were approved by Arizona State University’s Institutional Review Board and were performed in accordance with all ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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All participants provided informed consent for their deidentified data to be published with this study.

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Ayers, J.D., Krems, J.A., Hess, N. et al. Mother-in-Law Daughter-in-Law Conflict: an Evolutionary Perspective and Report of Empirical Data from the USA. Evolutionary Psychological Science 8, 56–71 (2022).

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  • Affines
  • Kin
  • In-laws
  • Cooperation
  • Conflict
  • Pair-bonds