Sibling violence is presumed to be the most common form of family violence and the least studied. Based on data from “Physical Violence in American Families, 1976,” this paper assesses the family environment factors associated with sibling physical violence. Of a range of potential family influences, measures of family disorganization were the most significant predictors of sibling violence, overriding the characteristics of children or particular family demands. What mattered most to the occurrence of sibling violence was a child’s actual experience of physical violence at the hands of a parent, maternal disciplinary practices and whether husbands lose their temper. These findings point to the deleterious effect of corporal punishment, and suggest sibling violence in families is associated with more ominous family and gender dynamics.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The survey asked about children both under the age of 3 as well as those between the ages of 3–17. Most analyses of spouse and child abuse using this data set have analyzed parents with children between the ages of 3–17. Since our focus is on sibling violence, something that could occur even at very young ages, plausibly with older children victimizing even infants, we elected to include parents with two or more children of any age range.
Abramovitch, R., Pepler, P., & Corter, C. (1982). Patterns of sibling interaction among preschool age children. In M. E. Lamb & B. Suttondr Smith (Eds.), Sibling relationships: Their nature and significance across the life span (pp. 61–86). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Bank, S. P., & Kahn, M. (1982). The sibling bond. New York: Basic Books.
Bender, L. (1953). Children with homicidal aggression. In L. Bender (Ed.), Aggression, hostility and anxiety in children (pp. 91–115). Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas.
Caffaro, J., & Conn-Caffaro, A. (1998). Sibling abuse trauma: Assessment and intervention strategies for children, families, and adults. New York: The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.
Cappell, C., & Heiner, R. (1990). The intergenerational transmission of family aggression. Journal of Family Violence, 5, 135–152.
Carek, D. J., & Watson, A. S. (1964). Treatment of a family involved in fratracide. Archives of General Psychiatry, 11, 533–542.
Deater-Deckard, K., Dodge, K., & Bates, J. E. (1996). Physical discipline among African American and European American mothers: Links to children’s externalizing behaviors. Developmental Psychology, 32, 1065–1072.
Deley, W. (1988). Physical punishment of children: Sweden and the USA. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 19, 419–431.
Doyle, C. (1996). Sexual abuse by siblings: The victim’s perspectives. Journal of Sexaul Aggression, 2, 17–32.
DesKeseredy, W., & Ellis, D. (1997). Sibling violence: A review of Canadian social research and suggestions for further empirical work. Humanity and Society, 21, 397–411.
Duncan, R. (1999). Peer and sibling aggression: An investigation of intra-and etra-familial bullying. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 871–886.
Emery, R. E., & O'Leary, K. D. (1982). Children’s perceptions of marital discord and behavior problems of boys and girls. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 10, 11–24.
Eriksen, S. J. (1998). Sisterhood & brotherhood: An exploration of sibling ties in adult lives. Unpublished dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts.
Fagan, J. A., Steward, D. & Hansen, K. (1983). Violent men or violent husbands? Background factors and situational correlates. In D. Finkelhor, R. Gelles, G. Hotaling, & M. Straus (Eds.), The dark side of families: Current family violence research (pp. 49–67). Beverly Hills: Sage.
Felson, R. B. (1983). Aggression and violence between siblings. Social Psychology Quarterly, 46, 271–285.
Felson, R. B., & Russo, N. (1988). Parental punishment and sibling aggression. Social Psychology Quarterly, 51, 11–18.
Forsstrom-Cohen, B., & Rosenbaum, A. (1985). The effects of parental marital violence on young adults: An exploratory investigation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 45, 467–472.
Gelles, R. J. (1980). Violence in the family: A review of research in the seventies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 42, 873–884.
Gelles, R. J. & Cornell, C. P. (1985). Intimate violence in families. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Gelles, R. J., & Straus, M. A. (1979). Violence in the American family. Journal of Social Issues, 35, 15–39.
Gil, D. G. (1970). Violence against children: Physical abuse in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Goodwin, M. P., & Roscoe, B. (1990). Sibling violence and agnostic interactions among middle adolescents. Adolescence, 25, 451–467.
Graham-Bermann, S. A., Cutler, S., Litzenberger, B., & Schwartz, W. E. (1994). Perceived conflict and violence in childhood sibling relationships and later emotional adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 8, 85–97.
Gully, K. J., Dengerink, H. A., Pepping, M., & Bergstrom, D. (1981). Research note: Sibling contribution to violent behavior. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 43, 333–337.
Hardy, M. (2001). Physical aggression and sexual behavior among siblings: A retrospective study. Journal of Family Violence, 16, 255–268.
Howell, M., & Pugliesi, H. (1988). Husbands who harm: Predicting spousal violence by men. Journal of Family Violence, 3, 316–338.
Jensen, V. (1998). Sibling Violence. Paper presented at the Pacific Sociological Association meetings, Portland, Oregon.
Kashani, J. H., Daniel, A. E., Dandoy, A. C., & Holcomb, H. R. (1992). Family violence: Impact on children. Journal of American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 31, 181–189.
Kornblit, A. L. (1994). Domestic violence: An emerging health issue. Social Science & Medicine, 9, 1181–1188.
Loeber, R., Weissman, W., & Reid, J. B. (1983). Family interactions of assaultive adolescents, stealers, and non-delinquents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 11, 1–14.
Maden, M. F., & Wrench, D. F. (1977). Significant findings in child abuse research. Victimology, 2, 196–224.
Martin, M. J., & Walters, J. (1982). Family correlates of selected types of child abuse and neglect. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 44, 267–276.
Martin, M. J., Schumm, W. R., Bugaighis, M. A., Jurich, A. P., & Bollman, S. R. (1987). Family violence and adolescents_ perceptions of outcomes of family conflict. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 165–171.
McLoyd, V. C., & Smith, J. (2002). Physical discipline and behavior problems in African American, European American and Hispanic children: Emotional support as a moderator. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 64, 40–53.
Minnett, A. M., Vandell, D. L., & Santrock, J. W. (1983). The effects of sibling status on sibling interaction: Influence of birth order, age, spacing, sex of child and sex of sibling. Child Development, 54, 1064–1072.
National Research Council (1993). Understanding child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Paluszny, M., & McNabb, M. (1975). Therapy of a 6-year-old who committed fratracide. Journal of American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 14, 319–336.
Patterson, G. R., Dishion, T. J., & Bank, L. (1984). Family interaction: A process model of deviancy training. Aggressive Behavior, 10, 253–267.
Pepler, D. J., Abramovitch, R., & Corter, C. (1981). Sibling interaction in the home: A longitudinal study. Child Development, 52, 1344–1347.
Prescott, S., & Letko, C. (1977). Battered women: A social psychological perspective. In M. Roy (Ed.), Battered women: A psychosociological study of domestic violence (pp. 72–96). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Rosenthal, P. A. & Doherty, M. B. (1984). Serious sibling abuse by preschool children. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 23, 186–190.
Simonelli, C., Mullis, T., Elliott, A., & Pierce, T. (2002). Abuse by siblings and subsequent experiences of violence within the dating relationship. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, 103–121.
Smith, P. K. (2000). Bullying and harassment in schools and the rights of children. Children & Society, 14, 294–303.
Steinmetz, S. K. (1977). The cycle of violence: Assertive, aggressive, and abusive family interaction. New York: Praeger.
Stock, L. (1993). Sibling abuse: It’s much more serious than child’s play. Children’s Legal Rights Journal, 14, 19–21.
Straus, M. A., Gelles, R. J., & Steinmetz, S. K. (1980). Behind closed doors: Violence in the American family. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Straus, M. (1991). Discipline and deviance: Physical punishment of children and violence and other crime in adulthood. Social Problems, 38, 133–154.
Straus, M. (1994). Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in America. Toronto: Macmillan International.
Wallace, H. (1996). Family violence: Legal, medical, and social perspectives. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Wiehe, V. (1998). Understanding family violence: Treating and preventing partner, child, sibling, and elder abuse. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Wiehe, V. (1997). Sibling abuse: Hidden physical, emotional and sexual trauma. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Yllo, K. (1993). Through a feminist lens: Gender, power and violence. In R. Gelles & M. Loeske, (Eds.), (Current controversies on family violence (pp. 47–62). Newbury Park: Sage.
A version of this paper was originally presented at the annual meetings of the American Criminological Association, San Francisco, CA, November, 2000.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Eriksen, S., Jensen, V. All in the Family? Family Environment Factors in Sibling Violence. J Fam Viol 21, 497–507 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-006-9048-9
- Sibling violence
- Physical aggression
- Sibling abuse
- Childhood and adolescence
- Sibling conflict
- Family violence/abuse
- Family environment
- Corporal punishment