Sibling Relationships Relationships with extended kin, spouses, parent and child, and siblings are all affected by a changing social world. Family size one indicator of sibling structure is shrinking in many societies. The International Database of the U. Bureau of the Census reports an all-time low of 2. Growing up with fewer siblings or none, as is mandated in much of China has profound implications in terms of intrafamily relationships, inheritance possibilities, and obligations and responsibilities for family members.
Dimensions of the sibling relationship. Sibling relationships can be analyzed according to a number of factors, including position within the sibling system, roles assumed by different siblings, family norms for children's expected behavior, the extent of coalition formation within the sibling system, and the functions siblings perform for each other.
Expected behavior for siblings may depend on where the child is in the sibling hierarchy oldest, middle, or youngest child and whether the child is male or female.
At all ages, sisters are reported to be, and report themselves to be, closer to one another than are brothers or cross-sex sibling pairs. Position and sex may dictate role behavior e. Coalitions foster sibling solidarity, counter the power of parents or other sibling subgroups, and develop to strengthen siblings' positions in times of conflict.
Siblings serve many functions for one another. Some of these include serving as a "testing ground" for one another when experimenting with new behaviors or ideas before exposing them to parents or peers; serving as teachers; practicing negotiation skills; and learning the consequences of cooperation and conflict and the benefits of commitment and loyalty.
Older siblings may serve a protective function, "translate" parental and peer meanings for younger brothers and sisters, and act as pathbreakers when new ideas or behaviors are introduced into the family.
For example, parents may object less when a younger son decides to get his ear pierced, or a younger sister decides to have the small of her back tattooed, because an older sibling already weakened parental resistance. Lastly, it is within the sibling group that children first experience feelings of fairness and justice. Siblings compete for resources within the family, and if resources such as affection, time, attention from parents, space, or material goods are scarce, children watch closely to ensure that they are getting their fair share Ihinger What appears to distinguish middle childhood sibling behavior of children in the United States from its non-Western counterpart is that it reflects a family system based upon independent relationships.
It mirrors the prototypical Western family as a culture of individualism as compared to a culture of collectivism.
The consequence of such behavior is intergenerational and interpersonal independence Kagitcibasi Sibling Similarities and Differences Despite commonalties of shared factors such as social class; physical and mental health of family members; the parental relationship; the emotional climate of the family; and the child-rearing skills, values, and attitudes of parents, siblings are a good deal different from one another. Only about 50 percent of siblings' genetic background is shared.
In terms of weight and height, they are about 50 percent similar, and the correlation between siblings and their IQ scores is only. By comparing the shared and nonshared family experiences of siblings, it can be seen that differential treatment and expressions of affection and interest by parents and other kin, perceptions of this differential treatment by siblings, and the effects of peer groups and school experiences coalesce to create a separate "life" for each child growing up in the same family.
Siblings in Non-Western Cultures Siblings have important and unique roles and functions to perform within the family. These vary, however, according to the cultural context. In Western societies, the sibling relationship tends to be identified by biological or genealogical criteria and it is typically less important than the spousal or parent-child relationship.
In contrast, in some non-Western societies, a sibling may be more important than a spouse; in others, cousins may be considered siblings Adams Victor Cicirelli cautions that it is important to be aware of how sibling is defined in the particular culture that is being discussed.
For example, in the Malo culture of New Hebrides in Oceania, all cousins of the same sex, the parent's siblings of the same sex, and grandparents of the same sex are considered to be siblings. In the Marquesas culture of Oceania, however, only full biological siblings are identified as siblings. Many important family functions, such as taking care of younger children and teaching them basic household and occupational skills, are carried out by siblings in non-Western societies. Childcare is usually a shared activity that takes place in the context of other activities such as doing chores, participating in games or play, or just lounging.
Sibling caretaking serves several major functions for a family and community. It supports parents who must spend their time in vital subsistence tasks, serves as a training ground for parenting, provides exposure to important superordinant and subordinate role behavior that will have to be carried out later in adulthood e.
Thus, interdependence and mutual support between siblings is highly valued and is learned at very early ages Nuckolls A family system that is characterized by a culture of collectivism develops from such interdependence. So strong is this interdependence that in much of the world siblings are a major influence in the life course of their brothers and sisters.
As adults, they may help arrange marriages and provide marriage payments for each other. This culture of collectivism persists even in the face of social change. A study of adolescents found that youth in Asia and Latin America collectivistic cultures held stronger family values and higher expectations regarding their obligations to assist, respect, and support their families than did their European counterparts Fulgini, Tseng, and Lam Interdependence does not, however, eliminate conflict and disharmony.
In non-Western societies, whether descent is traced through the mother or father's lineage, two distinct dimensions of adult sibling relationships have been identified.
One of these is competition for inheritance and property-holding; the other is joint obligation to parents. Within a patrilineal society there are a variety of ways property can be transmitted.
Family property may be inherited by the first-born son or the last-born son, or given to all sons partially. Yet another way of property distribution involves giving sons undivided shares so that siblings have to stay and work together for their collective interests and property.
In matrilineal societies, family property passes through the female line but males still have rights of inheritance. Tension over the division of family property often occurs between a man and his wife's brothers Adams In Taiwan there is a unique family structure called take-turn stem families where siblings make an arrangement, according to a timeline, in which parents will live with them.
Siblings take turns and cooperate to support and take care of their parents. Caring for parents often brings siblings into close and frequent contact with each other. Age and sex are major determinants of sibling status in most parts of the world. An ancient Confucian code for family socialization in Chinese society was as follows: Older brothers replaced parental roles and inherited parental authority in the absence of a father whereas older sisters served as a backup system of caregiving for younger siblings.
However, sisters had no control or power over them, especially younger brothers. Younger brothers and sisters were expected to obey and respect their older siblings, particularly the big brother, as if he were in the parental position Tsai Modernization and economic development have modified these norms. When the one-child policy was first introduced in China in , its aim was to prevent rapid population growth.
In urban areas, particularly, this policy succeeded, with a dramatic decline in the Chinese birth rate. The fertility rate was 5. However, changing a society's norms about how many children to have when male children are more highly valued than female children is problematic when the odds are high that the one and only child conceived will turn out to be a girl. Increasing rates of infanticide, the crippling of first-born girls in order to get permission to have a second child, among other considerations, brought about a slight relaxation of this policy for parents with special needs: There are profound consequences for a society's families when a large majority of couples have only one child.
Over time family structure and relationships are transformed when there are no kin to call brother, sister, uncle, aunt, or cousin. In the following section the focus is on one Western society, the United States. However, although the details vary, similar interpersonal processes of conflict, competition, cooperation, learning, and teaching take place within the sibling group, just as in non-Western societies. Sibling Relationships across the Life Span In the United States, sibling relationships are dynamic and vary depending on the stage in the life cycle; they are no less important during old age than when children are toddlers or adolescents.
However, what one expects from and what one gives to a sibling in old age is different from expectations and exchanges at earlier ages. Research on infant and preschool siblings. There is growing recognition that siblings play potentially important roles in socializing each other's social, emotional, and cognitive development.
One example of the effects of this socialization role is the finding that older siblings are not as accommodating to young children as adults are and thus encourage the development of pragmatic skills in their younger siblings. In other words, older siblings will make younger children perform such tasks as tying their own shoes and getting their own bowl of ice cream. Psychologists studying the interaction patterns of preschool children and their infant siblings report that the arrival of a newborn in the family has immediate consequences for older siblings' adjustment and behavior.
Bed-wetting, withdrawal, aggressiveness, dependency, and anxiety are among the most problematic behaviors reported in these studies Dunn Positive roles for older siblings include the opportunity to learn caretaking skills and serving as models for appropriate social and cultural behaviors.
Numerous studies find that young siblings benefit from observing and imitating their older brothers and sisters. This happens because older siblings "engage in activities during interaction that are within the scope of actions that the younger child is capable of reproducing immediately or slightly after observation" Zukow , p.
Sometime between their third and fourth year, older siblings begin to take a more active interest in younger siblings, and brothers and sisters become both more effective companions and antagonists at this age. Older siblings demonstrate a clear understanding of how to provoke and annoy a younger child as early as age two. Countering this negative tendency is an increasing interest in alleviating the distress of others during the second year.
There is some evidence that the way mothers talk to an older sibling about a newborn child is associated with the quality of the behavior between the children over time Dunn Children become increasingly more involved with their older siblings during the preschool years. Sibling relationships in middle childhood. American children become more egalitarian during the middle childhood years. When fifth- and sixth-grade children were asked about the relationship with their siblings, the quality noted most was companionship.
This was followed by antagonism, admiration of sibling, and quarreling Furman et al. These positive and negative qualities of the relationship were independent of one another, illustrating the ambivalence and complexity of sibling interaction. Younger siblings report feeling more affection, closeness, and respect for older siblings than the reverse.
Brothers and sisters tend to influence each other's gender role development. Boys with sisters score higher on expressiveness than boys with brothers, and girls with brothers score higher on competitiveness and assertiveness Sulloway Boys with only brothers are reported as being more violent than boys with sisters Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz Differential treatment by mothers is associated with more conflicted and hostile sibling relationships Boer, Goedhart, and Treffers Because of their shared past, and because they are typically close in age, siblings are potential sources of financial, physical, emotional, and psychological support and assistance in old age.
Some of the topics related to adult siblings that have been investigated include the frequency of contact, feelings of solidarity and closeness, use of siblings as confidants, and types of support and assistance exchanged.
Those who study adult sibling relationships report four consistent findings. First, sibling contact and closeness is greater between sisters than in brother-brother or brother-sister combinations. Overall, women are more likely to be the ones to initiate and maintain kin ties, including those with siblings. Second, geographic proximity is a key factor in predicting the extent of adult sibling interaction.