Socialisation within the Family  


Family Types  
& Theories

Parenting Styles  


Gender Role Development  

About Us
Sibling Relationships 

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, 1984) 

Birth Order
Number of Siblings
 Age Spacing


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. 

Identified as Siblings
Marquesas Full biological 
Pukapuka of the Cook Islands Both parentsí biological siblings
Malo of New Hebrides Cousins, parents and grandparents of same sex 
Abaluyin of Kenya Children who were fostered in the same household 
(Cicirelli, 1994)
 Birth Order 

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: 

  • Imitate sounds and actions of the mother (Sutton-Smith, 1982)
  • Be influenced by parents (Dunn, 1984)
  • Hold more responsibility and leadership type roles (Sutton-Smith, 1982)
  • Use status and bribery tactics (Sutton-Smith, 1982)
  • Be bossy and dominant (Sutton-Smith, 1982)
  • Become powerful members of society (Sutton-Smith, 1982)
  • Have increased behavioural or regressive problems (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982)
Whereas later born children were likely to: 
  • Sulk, pant, plead, cry and appeal to parents (Sutton-Smith, 1982)
  • Imitate older sibling(s) (Dunn, 1984)
  • Become weak members of society (Sutton-Smith, 1982)
  • Be influenced by the sex and personality of the firstborn (Dunn, 1984)
While some of these observations do become apparent in some first and later born children, it isnít enough to generalise childrenís abilities based on their order of birth.  There is no evidence to support such statements and they are far too simple (Dunn, 1984). 

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.  
Within other societies the brother-sister relationship is of "most importance in marital arrangements, and the brother-brother relationship in social and economical activities (Cicirelli, 1994). 

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). 

Number of Siblings 

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) 

Age Spacing 

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, 1984).