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

An Erratum to this article was published on 04 February 2015


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.

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  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.


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Correspondence to Deniz Yucel.

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Yucel, D., Downey, D.B. When Quality Trumps Quantity: Siblings and the Development of Peer Relationships. Child Ind Res 8, 845–865 (2015).

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