The Sibling Effect
Throughout our lives, we are going to meet many different people; some who will have a huge effect on us, and others who we won’t even remember ten minutes later. Our spouses and children will join us later in our life, and our parents will leave us much too soon for our liking, but our siblings are with us throughout it all.
When my older sister Cayleigh left to go to the University of Newcastle in England, I was devastated. My sister and I had always been extremely close throughout our childhood and teenage years; sharing countless secrets, experiences and memories. I couldn’t believe that not only was she going away to University, but she was going to another continent with a six hour time difference! I was losing not only my sister, but my best friend as well.
When my older brother Corey left to go to a prep school in Florida, I was thrilled. “Finally!” I thought to myself when we dropped him off at the airport. My brother and I have never gotten along growing up. While it’s gotten better since we’ve gotten older, that’s mostly because we’ve learned to avoid each, not because we actually get along anymore. No matter how many wishes my mother would make on her birthday, we never have had a day without fighting.
My two entirely different reactions to both of my siblings leaving left me thinking; why? Why is it that I’m so close to one of my siblings but not the other? Is it possible that two siblings of the same gender are more inclined to develop a close relationship? Or is it something else that influences the kind of relationship you develop?
A study done by Furman and Buhremester in 1985, showed that siblings of the same gender are closer and are more likely to show more warmth towards each other. This closeness was also shown to increase the closer in age the two siblings were. However, it has also been shown that conflict and competition occur more often between siblings that are close in age, and even more so if they are the same gender. This tends to occur because a sibling who is closer to you in age and of the same gender is someone you are often compared to by parents. Either you are both competing for the same title, for example the “sporty one” which will create an extreme amount of conflict, or one sibling will try to differentiate themselves. So if their sibling is considered the “sporty one”, they’ll try and be the “smart one”. This led me to consider that perhaps gender wasn’t the cause of the strenuous relationship between my brother and me, perhaps age played a bigger role.
A study done by Van Volkom, Machiz and Reich (2015) shows that the youngest siblings often struggle to create their own identity because they want to differentiate themselves from their older siblings but aren’t sure how. Struggling to differentiate themselves often leads younger children to compare themselves to their sibling closest in age and this increase in competition leads to more resentment between the two and arguments take place. As the youngest of three I struggled with this, especially because my sister had already taken the label of the “smart one” and my brother was considered the “sporty one”. I wasn’t creative or artistic or particularly sweet or quiet so I wasn’t sure exactly what label I could fit under. I became the “smart one but not as smart as her sister” and the “sporty one but not as sporty as her brother”.
A classmate of mine, Annie Lavallee, doesn’t believe that age has any effect on the relationship between her and her three brothers. Her oldest brother Frederick who is 20 is closest with her youngest brother Samuel who is 14, although she claims this is because Frederick “comes home most often” and they spend “lots of quality time together”. She believes as I originally did, that gender is the most important factor to contribute to the closeness of one’s relationship with a sibling. She believes that siblings of the same gender “have the same interests” and therefore have more things to do together and to talk about. She always wished she had a sister so they could do “girl things” together. I suppose I did get lucky with my sister because we do have many things in common, and that has strengthened our bond.
Regardless of whether you have a warm and loving relationship with your siblings, or one filled with arguments and resentment, this relationship affects you and your personality in the long run. According to a study done by Harvard about adult development, having a poor relationship with your sibling before you’re twenty can effect whether or not you suffer from depression in the future. It has also been shown that having a close relationship with siblings can increase your overall satisfaction with life. As well, growing up with siblings helps improve your social skills. Only children are at a disadvantage when they first start kindergarten (or preschool) because they haven’t already had the practice of sharing things, such as toys or even the attention of a caregiver with others. Although the rumors that only children are lonely and maladjusted have been proven false, they do lack the experience of interacting with someone their own age and having to resolve conflict and compromise that children with siblings are exposed to at a younger age.
If you have older siblings, their actions also have an effect on who you are. Older siblings are extremely important for many reasons. They are our role models for so many things in life including school, friends and appearance. When I was young, was always wearing my sister’s clothes because I wanted to be just like her. Unfortunately, not everything we model after our siblings in is positive. For example, a study done by Patricia East at the University of San Diego, found that girls whose older sister became pregnant as a teenager, is four time more likely herself to become pregnant as a teenager. As well, Richard Rende from Brown University has found that an older sibling smoking is much more influential than a parent smoking. Another university professor, Claire Stocker from the University of Denver has also found that conflict between siblings during mid-childhood, increases ones chances of anxiety and depression in adolescence.
Another factor that can have a large influence on your personality is your birth order. While not all children are the same, there are classic markers that first born children, middle children, and youngest children show. First born children tend to be reliable, conscientious, cautious, controlling, and structured. As children, they tend to copy their parents’ actions and act as adults. When younger siblings join the picture, they like to help their parents take care of them and contribute. My older sister, who is the first born child of my family, fits this mold completely. When my parents go away, she is always the one organizing our schedules and making sure my brother and I are on track. She also cooks and cleans and does all the other household chores. It’s easy to have confidence in a reliable person such as first born children. First born children are also known as the “achievers” because they are often found in careers such as law, medicine or a CEO. First born children also have, on average, a 3 point higher IQ. This doesn’t seem like much but it can lead to a 15 – 20 point difference on the SAT’s. When the first child is young, parents can devote all of their time and attention to them, helping to foster their cognitive skills. Any subsequent children must share their parents and their parents’ time.
Middle children are often flexible and understanding, nevertheless they are known to be quite competitive. They often feel that they don’t receive much attention from their family and they will create a close circle of friends to make up for this. They are often found in careers that involve negotiation because in these types of jobs they also receive the attention that their family didn’t give them enough of.
The last born child is typically outgoing, manipulative, fun-loving, self-centered, attention seeking, and uncomplicated. They are often considered to be free spirits because of the parents more relaxed attitude that is common once they’ve had multiple children. Youngest children are often quite independent because parents tend to give them more freedom. They have a lot of charm and are considered quite likeable, therefore it’s not surprising that youngest children are often found in the entertainment industry, working as actors or comedians. Youngest children truly feel secure and supported within their home because parents often make them feel special and spoil them.
None of this is to say that if you’re the middle child you’ll always have a large group of close friends to compensate for the attention you lacked at home. Everyone is different and every family is different. These are the tendencies that researchers have seen with birth order and personality. As well, having a good relationship with your siblings does not mean you’re immune to depression. These are all simply factors that can effect it.
Regardless of whether or not your relationship with your siblings is a good one or not, they are around for your entire life and they are the only ones to go through the same childhood experiences within your house as you. A tough divorce; they’re the ones who experienced it with you. And whether we like it or not, the relationship we have with them effects who we become as adults, and how our life turns out. On the bright side, next time your sibling calls you selfish, you could always blame it on them!
McCamish-Svensson, Cheryl, Gillis Samuelsson, Bo Hagberg, Torbjörn Svensson, and Ove Dehlin. “Social Relationships and Health as Predictors of Life Satisfaction in Advanced Old Age: Results from a Swedish Longitudinal Study.” The International Journal of Aging & Human Development 48.4 (1999): 301-324. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Van Volkom, Michele, Carly Machiz, and Ashley E. Reich. “Sibling Relationships In The College Years: Do Gender, Birth Order, And Age Spacing Matter?” North American Journal of Psychology 13.1 (2011): 35-50. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.