Skip to main content

When Quality Trumps Quantity: Siblings and the Development of Peer Relationships

An Erratum to this article was published on 04 February 2015

Abstract

A growing body of research suggests that individuals raised with siblings gain social skills that facilitate relationship building with others. But while this pattern has been demonstrated among kindergartners and adults, surprisingly it does not replicate among adolescents. We analyze 4188 10–15 years olds from the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) and replicate the previous pattern—number of siblings is unrelated to peer relationship quality. But unlike past studies, we explore how sibling relationship quality matters. It turns out that while the number of siblings is inconsequential, the quality of sibling relationships plays an important role in shaping the quality of peer relationships. While past research implies that siblings play no role in developing the skills necessary for building and maintaining other relationships among youths, our study clarifies how the quality of sibling relationships (but not the quantity) is a meaningful contributor to the development of peer relationships.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. As the authors of these studies note, however, it is unclear whether these correlations represent causal relationships (see Jenkins and Dunn 2009).

  2. We also estimated our multivariate models with the full sample of 4899. Although we could not ascertain whether sibling quality operates the same for this sample (we had to omit that variable since it is missing for all only children), other aspects of the model operated similarly. For example, there was no relationship between sibship size and peer relationship quality.

  3. Van Lange et al. (Van Lange et al. 1997) found that children with siblings behaved in a more prosocial way in laboratory games (i.e., more likely to cooperate and trust others) than those without siblings.

  4. We are also aware that we analyzed a British sample while past studies of sibship size have typically employed American data. Our motivation was practical—the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study is the first large-scale study (we are aware of) with good measures of the quality of sibling relationships. But previous research that has focused on just sibship size has found similar patterns across the U.S. and UK and so we see little reason to expect that our results are unique to Britain.

  5. In addition, we had to exclude only children from the multivariate analysis because there is no way to measure their relationship quality with siblings. In supplemental analyses, however, we estimated the models in Table 3 without sibling relationship quality and produced largely similar results. Specifically, sibship size was still unrelated to peer relationship quality.

  6. It is noteworthy that even the sibling scholarship based on small samples has tended to use self-reports of sibling relationship quality similar to our own. So while the internal validity of most past studies is in question, the external validity is also suspect.

References

  • Allison, P. D. (2002). Missing data. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ardelt, M., & Day, L. (2002). Parents, siblings, and peers: Close social relationships and adolescent deviance. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 22(3), 310–349.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bobbitt-Zeher, D., & Downey, D. B. (2013). Number of siblings and friendship nominations among adolescents. Journal of Family Issues, 34, 1175–1193.

  • Cameron, L., Erkal, N., Gangadharan, L., & Meng, X. (2013). Little emperors: Behavioral impacts of China’s one-child policy. Ann Arbor: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research.

    Google Scholar 

  • Downey, D. B., & Condron, D. (2004). Playing well with others in kindergarten: the benefits of siblings at home. Journal of Family Issues, 66, 333–350.

  • Dunn, J. (1988). Sibling influences on childhood development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 29, 119–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dunn, J., Brown, J. R., & Maguire, M. (1995). The development of children’s moral sensibility: Individual differences and emotional understanding. Developmental Psychology, 31, 649–659.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Falbo, T. (2012). Only children: An updated review. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 68(1), 38–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goodman, R. (1997). The strengths and difficulties questionnaire: a research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 581–586.

  • Guo, G., & Van Wey, L. (1999). Sibship size and intellectual development: Is the relationship causal? American Sociological Review, 64, 169–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jenkins, J., & Dunn, J. (2009). Siblings within families: Levels of analysis and patterns of influence. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 79–93.

  • McClelland, M. M., Morrison, F. J., & Holmes, D. L. (2000). Children at risk for early academic problems: The role of learning-related social skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15(3), 307–329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Polit, D. F., & Falbo, T. (1987). Only children and personality development: A quantitative review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49(2), 309–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Powell, B., & Steelman, L. C. (1989). The liability of having brothers: Paying for collegeand the sex composition of the family. Sociology of Education, 62, 134–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Powell, B., & Steelman, L. C. (1990). Beyond sibship size: Sibling density, sex composition, and educational outcomes. Social Forces, 69, 181–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rowe, D. C., & Gulley, B. L. (1992). Sibling effects on substance use and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 217–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shalash, F. M., Wood, N. D., & Parker, T. S. (2013). Our problems are your sibling’s fault: Exploring the connections between conflict styles of siblings during adolescence and later adult committed relationships. American Journal of Family Therapy, 41(4), 288–298.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Slomkowski, C., Rende, R., Conger, K. J., Simons, R. L., & Conger, R. (2001). Sisters, brothers, and delinquency: Evaluating social influence during early and middle adolescence. Child Development, 72, 271–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sridharan, S., et al. (2013). Enhancing sibling relationships to prevent adolescent problem behaviors: Theory, design and feasibility of siblings are special. Evaluation and Program Planning, 36(1), 97–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stocker, C. M., Burwell, R. A., & Briggs, M. L. (2002). Sibling conflict in middle childhood predicts children’s adjustment in early adolescence. Journal of Family Psychology, 16, 50–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stormshak, E. A., Bellanti, C. J., & Bierman, K. L. (1996). The quality of sibling relationships and the development of social competence and behavioral control in aggressive children. Developmental Psychology, 32(1), 79–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trent, K., & Spitze, G. (2011). Growing up without siblings and adult sociability behaviors. Journal of Family Issues, 32(9), 1178–1204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Lange, P. A. M., De Bruin, E. M. N., Otten, W., & Joireman, J. A. (1997). Development of prosocial, individualistic, and competitive orientations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(4), 733–746.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • von Hippel, P. T. (2007). Regression with missing Ys: An improved strategy for analyzing multiply imputed data. Sociological Methodology, 37, 83–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zukow-Goldring, P. G. (1995). Sibling caregiving. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting (Status and social conditions of parenting, Vol. 3, pp. 177–208). Mahwah: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Deniz Yucel.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yucel, D., Downey, D.B. When Quality Trumps Quantity: Siblings and the Development of Peer Relationships. Child Ind Res 8, 845–865 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-014-9276-0

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-014-9276-0

Keywords

  • Siblings
  • Peer relationships
  • Sibling relationship quality
  • United Kingdom household longitudinal study
  • Adolescents