I found this article relevant to our research questions on the effect that siblings may have on one another. While the article does not expand on how siblings influence each other academically, it goes into the impact they can have socially. Society has lead us to believe that a complete, nuclear family consists of two children, thus persuading that an only child may be at a disadvantage. However the study conducted found that children who were sibling-less were no less social than those with siblings, in fact by the time they became teenagers they were just as social. Perhaps this article can begin to enlighten us on whether or not other support systems can step into a child’s life and substitute a brother and/or sister, and thus influence the child in the same way, or just maybe a sibling is something that cannot be replaced despite what studies may try to show! -Nicole Harding

The Gist: Growing up without siblings doesn’t harm social skills.

Published: September 10, 2010

Rachel Weill/Getty Images

The Source: “Good for Nothing? Number of Siblings and Friendship Nominations Among Adolescents,” by Donna Bobbitt-Zeher and Douglas B. Downey, Ohio State University.

SERIAL parents may think that each new sibling offers their offspring the gift of companionship. But while we tend to think that siblings teach one another conflict resolution and other interpersonal skills, new research says they are no better off socially than children without siblings.

“Most studies look at the negative consequences of having siblings in terms of educational outcome,” said Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, the lead author of the study. “But we decided to look at social skills to see if there was any other possible benefit to having brothers or sisters.” She and her co-author, Douglas Downey are sociologists at Ohio State’s Marion campus, and neither is an only child. They presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in August.

The paper is in large part a reply to a 2004 study, “Playing Well With Others in Kindergarten: The Benefits of Siblings at Home,” also co-authored by Dr. Downey, which found that kindergarten teachers rated children without siblings worse in interpersonal skills, self-control and problem behaviors.

But an only child isn’t necessarily a loner, misfit and brat. First, the social advantages found in children with siblings in the kindergarten study were quite modest. Second, the study relied on teacher evaluations, and teachers may not be reliable judges of friendships among their charges.

And now it seems that any benefits documented in kindergarten disappear altogether by middle school. Using a metric called “peer nomination,” in which youths are asked to identify their friends by name, Dr. Downey and Dr. Bobbitt-Zeher drew on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, with a sample size of 13,466 students in 7th through 12th grades. They then counted how many people named each individual as a friend. This was used to proximate social skills since the socially inept would be unlikely to have lots of friends. The result: children without siblings had just as many friends as children with siblings.

“I see the two studies as a natural progression, showing what happens to the only children who didn’t have much interaction before kindergarten,” Dr. Downey said. Another study he is working on shows that the same only children evaluated in kindergarten had caught up by fifth grade.

While the studies don’t examine the cause for the disappearing social boost to kindergartners with siblings, Dr. Downey speculates that continuing school, youth clubs and other group activities — especially in an era of overscheduled children — provide ample opportunity for onlys to sharpen their skills.

Or, speculates Dalton Conley, a sociologist at N.Y.U. who has studied sibling relationships, because an only child tends to be adult-centric, “it’s plausible these only kids have trouble relating to fellow 5-year-olds.” He added, “as they age, they are better able to relate to kids who are more adultlike.” Sorry, Gosselins, advantage only children.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 12, 2010, on page ST6 of the New York edition.

About Nicole Harding

Hunter College student

2 responses

  1. This is pretty interesting. I never really gave much thought to the effect of siblings increasing interpersonal behavior. It’s something I would like to read more about. Thanks =)

  2. kelirosa says:

    As an only child, I found this article amazing! For so long, people always classified me as “an only child” with this weird negative connotation. As if being an only child meant I was this spoiled rotten little brat that didn’t interact well with others my own age. The snotty kid who’s always crying because she doesn’t want to share her toys.

    I’m glad that this study gives insight to only children in terms of social skills. While I will admit that in Kindergarten I wasn’t the most social thing, I blame it on being constantly surrounded by adults and older cousins…however once I made it to middle school and beyond, and any type of “only child syndrome” was long gone.

    Not once do I remember anyone saying “oh, Keli’s like that because she is an only child”. I might even go as far to say I was that much more social because I longed for companionship with people my own age.