Growing up with brothers and sisters helps to keep marriages intact. But it takes a big family to lower divorce rates.
In the latest research presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, scientists from Ohio State found that the more siblings you have, the lower your risk of getting divorced as an adult.
There are many factors that play into a divorce, the authors say, but the number of siblings may be a meaningful one. Other work showed that navigating family relationships can be a helpful introduction into managing friendships and spousal interactions later on. And the Ohio State scientists say it’s not just having a sibling that increases your chances of staying married, but the more brothers and sisters you have, the more protected you may be from splitting up with your significant other. “We found that the real story appears to be how family dynamics change incrementally with the addition of each sibling,” said co-study author Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State in a statement. “More siblings means more experience dealing with others and that seems to provide additional help in dealing with a marriage relationship as an adult.”
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That makes sense, and explains why Bobbitt-Zeher and her team did not find much difference between only children and those with one or two siblings and their divorce rates. Working with data from the General Social Survey, which includes interviews with 57,000 U.S. adults conducted between 1972 and 2012, the researchers concluded that for every additional sibling up to seven, there was a 2% reduction in the likelihood for divorce. Having over seven siblings didn’t seem to lower the odds of divorce any further.
Even after the team accounted for a variety of other factors that could influence divorce rate, such as socioeconomic status and age at marriage, the link between more siblings and lower divorce rate remained.
Learning to co-exist with siblings, each of whom has a different personality, can have a significant impact on how a person establishes and maintains relationships with others. A study published earlier this year, for example, showed that bullying among siblings can be as harmful on mental health as bullying by peers on the playground. And patterns of behaviors established in the family can serve as a foundation for interactions among spouses in adulthood.
“Growing up in a family with siblings, you develop a set of skills for negotiating both negative and positive interactions. You have to consider other people’s points of view, learn how to talk through problems. The more siblings you have, the more opportunities you have to practice those skills,” said another of the study’s authors Doug Downey, a professor of sociology at The Ohio State University in a statement.
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The authors have already conducted studies on how siblings affect developing social skills, and now they’re interested in studying how these influences translate into behaviors and outcomes later in life. Their findings, however, only point to correlations. So not having many siblings or being an only child doesn’t condemn a person to divorce. Plenty of people from smaller families have successful marriages, but the relationship between sibling number and divorce does suggest that growing up with brothers and sisters can be a good foundation for creating positive relationships.