Sisterhood and brotherhood: An exploration of sibling ties in adult lives
This study assesses the family and social conditions that shape adults' interaction with siblings, emotional closeness among siblings, the nature and amount of their help exchange, and the compatibility of adult views on their shared sibling relationship.
Analyses are based on three data sets: the 1986 version of the General Social Survey; an original study of caregiving, which included a follow-up telephone interview; and a mail questionnaire sent to adult siblings. Original respondents in the caregiving study who had at least one sibling (N = 198) were recontacted to determine the amount of help, level of closeness and frequency of interaction with all siblings in their family (N = 607). We received 248 return questionnaires out of 462 mailed from these "target siblings."
In the GSS, we found that contrary to popular opinion, affectionate components of sibling ties do not inevitably eclipse practical ones. We also found that race significantly shaped the extent to which adults felt close and gave help to adult siblings.
In our regional data, we learned that adults varied widely in their emotional closeness to siblings within their family; women exhibited greater range in closeness than did men. Adults' perceived compatibility of life views was a significant determinant of closeness with individual siblings. Adult siblings are also far more "practically present" in each other's lives than previously thought. While adults provide more help to parents than they do to siblings, they give relatively equal amounts of help to siblings as they do friends.
Research findings also expanded our understanding of the role of parents, early in childhood and later in adult life, both ill and well. Adults who recalled a more cohesive early family life, and a parental emphasis on sibling unity, were closer to adult siblings than those who did not recall such emphases. Sibling favoritism bore no relationship to adult sibling closeness. Siblings with ill parents visited and telephoned each other less often, and felt less close, than sibling dyads with parents in good health. Finally, we observed that there is a striking amount of disagreement among sibling pairs on nearly every relationship dimension we measured.
Minority & ethnic groups;
0628: Personal relationships
0631: Minority & ethnic groups
0453: Womens studies