Sibling relationships play an important role not only in the family life, but by influencing the way that the family functions within society (Cicirelli, 1994).
Sibling relationships within the family can not simply be put down to birth order, gender, number of siblings and spacing of siblings. Childrenís personalities, the social circumstances and the relationships between child and parent also need to be considered (Dunn 1984).
However, studies help us
to understand that "the sex and personality of the firstborn isÖ more likely
to influence the later born children in a direct way than vice versa" (Dunn,
Sibling relationships differ from culture to culture. In some societies siblings are identified by genealogical or biological criteria, where siblings have two biological parents, and half siblings one. They may also be identified by legal criteria, such as step siblings or adoptive siblings (Cicirelli, 1994).
In other societies siblings
are defined differently and can become complex.
It was once believed that the order in which children were born defined what sort of behaviour the child would develop and how successful they were likely to become.
First born children were likely to:
However, birth order does provide "different opportunities such asÖ availability of family resources, availability of parental time, energy, and attention, quality of the relationship with parents, and influence on younger siblings" (Cicirelli, 1994).
Generally older siblings do have considerable influence on younger siblingsí cognitive, social and emotional development. They may take on the role as teacher, counselor, and confidante, without there being any obligation to do so (Cicirelli, 1994).
In other societies the older
brother takes status in the family, followed by the oldest sister. Younger
siblings are taught to respect and obey their older siblings
as they would their parents. "In many cases the older sister has
an important mediating role between the older brother and the younger siblings
when inevitable conflicts develop" (Cicirelli, 1994).
It is often the relationship between sisters which appears to be the closest, with brother-sister pairs in between in closeness and brother-brother pairs least close (Adams, 1968; Cicirelli, 1982).
Sisters are more likely to
take on care taking roles and maintain communication between the rest of
the family and the brother(s). Sisters may also act as counselors
for the brother(s) and motivators.
Sisters and brothers are regarded as complementary, with brothers being the protectors of their sisters, and the sisters being the "spiritual mentors" of their brothers (Cicirelli, 1994).
"In New Guinea, sisters are
valued over their wives with the feeling that men can replace their wives
but not their sisters (Cicirelli, 1994).
Most families have no more than three siblings. Factors such as the rising cost of rearing children, entry of women into the workforce and availability of effective birth control methods have caused this decline of births and increased the rate of single children. However, some families are now larger due to the addition of half and step siblings (Cicirelli, 1994).
It is thought that "disciplinary practices become more authoritarian and punitive as family size increases and parents try to keep large numbers of youngsters in line" (Berk, 1991).
Within other societies, families
are larger because more children are needed for work and "to help maintain
daily family functioning and survival. The larger sibling group offers
a greater support system for parents in old age as well as for the members
of the sibling groups themselves" (Cicirelli, 1994).
Research shows that an age gap of two-four years between siblings may be optimal for greater mental stimulation from one another while reducing conflict (Dunn, 1984). And that the closer siblings are in age, the greater their chance is of sharing developmental events in similar ways (Bank & Kahn, 1982). Spacing siblings further apart may provide parents with greater opportunity for career development and improvement of the families economic status (Dunn, 1984).
However, "play, companionship
and affection areÖ shown whether the age gap is four years or only eleven
months, so too are aggression, hostility and teasing" (Dunn,