Your BMI isn’t the only thing possibly affected by having a sibling—and it’s not just younger siblings that have an impact on your health (and happiness). Keep reading to learn about six ways your siblings help shape who you are…
1. Siblings help you learn how to deal with conflict.
Mo’ siblings, mo’ problems? Not exactly. Data and interviews from about 57,000 adults across the United States found that each additional sibling a person has (up to seven) reduces your chances of divorce by two percent for each sibling. The jump from zero siblings to one wasn’t huge, but the difference between being an only child and being part of a large family created what researchers called a meaningful gap in the probability of divorce.
“Growing up in a family with siblings, you develop a set of skills for negotiating both negative and positive interactions,” study co-author Donna Bobbitt-Zeher explained in a press release. “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,” added co-author Doug Downey.
2. Boys with siblings are more sympathetic.
While boys usually benefit less than girls do from most kinds of relationships, there’s something different about the sibling relationship, one 2014 study found. Boys rely on sibling affection just as much as girls do, the researchers say, and those relationships help develop a boy’s sympathy and altruism.
3. Having a sibling can boost mental health and kindness.
A study of 395 families with more than one child found that having a sister—younger or older—helped protect 10 to 14-year-olds from feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful. Having a loving sibling—sister or brother—also promoted good deeds.
4. Frequent conflicts with your siblings may increase your risk of depression.
A 30-year study of 229 men found that a poor relationship with siblings prior to the age of 20 predicted the occurrence of major depression by age 50 (a family history of depression increases the chances even more). The researchers explain their results: “If we consider two men, one with relatively good relationships with his siblings (a rating of 4 on the 5-point scale) and the other with relatively poor relationships with his siblings (2 on the 5-point scale), and both with average quality relationships with parents and no family history of depression, the one with better sibling relationships would have a 2.3 percent chance of developing depression, whereas the one with poor sibling relationships would have a 9.9 percent chance of developing depression.” Someone with an average relationship with his parents, a poor relationship with his siblings and a family history of depression would have a 30 percent risk of depression.
5. Fights about fairness, personal space and equality has a similar impact.
A University of Missouri study of 145 pairs of siblings averaging ages 12 to 15 found that frequent fights about equality and fairness—like who’s turn it is to do a chore—were associated with higher levels of depression a year later. Frequent fights about personal space were associated with more issues with anxiety and low self-esteem.
6. But close relationships with siblings help you deal with tough life events.
Not only does having a sibling in your corner help you deal with stressful life events as a child, the benefits continue into adulthood, too. A study published in 2014 found that having social support from your siblings was associated with lower loneliness and depression and higher self-esteem and life satisfaction. Strong sibling support can also compensate for low parents and peer support.