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  • Writer's pictureJiah Hwang

Unbreakable Bonds: A Review of “Growing Up without Siblings and Adult Sociability Behaviors”

Author’s Note

“You definitely have a younger sister vibe” or “You look like you have an older sister” are among the phrases I’ve heard most in my life, and honestly, I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not. With an age gap of a whopping 5 years, I’ve vicariously learned my fair share of lessons living vicariously through my sister. But did that have a genuine impact on the quality of my life? How do people with brothers grow up? How do people growing up in girl-girl, boy-boy, and girl-boy sibling relationships differ from one another? But how would my life and others’ be different without our siblings?


The purpose of this study is to compare the sociability behaviors of adults who grew up with and without siblings, which is important to know now more than ever due to the declining fertility and increasing divorce rates in various areas around the world. “The percent of women ages 40–44 with one child ever born increased from 9.6 percent in 1980 to about 17 percent beginning in the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s.” The study will specifically examine differences in the frequency of social engagement in events with relatives/non-relatives, social participation, and the type of social activity the participants engage in. The study is based on three theoretical arguments:

  1. Resource Dilution: more children = fewer resources for each child

  2. Siblings as Resources: siblings = social capital

  3. Only Child Uniqueness: only children have distinctly different characteristics compared to children with siblings.

Many studies have been conducted to resolve some of the questions mentioned above, but many of them didn’t result in clear and concise explanations. (The article then goes on to summarize many of those past tests, but I will specifically be summarizing the test conducted for this study.)

The participants for this test came from data from The National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), a national probability sample of 13,007 respondents aged 19 and older. They were initially interviewed 1987–1988, and this study used the first wave of responses to identify participants who grew up with and without siblings as the first wave of the sample was the only one where the respondents were asked if they had siblings from their childhood. In contrast, later questions for the remaining waves didn’t distinguish between full, half, and step-siblings. The survey also asked for the age and sex of the respondents. (of the 6% that didn’t have siblings, 60% were women with a mean age of 43) The sample sizes may vary slightly due to some pieces of missing data, with a minimum of 11,149 respondents. Around 6% grew up without other children in the household.

In order to analyze sociability behaviors, they differentiated between dependent and independent variables.

1st set of dependent variables: Measures whom respondents socialize with

Questions: “About how often do you do the following things: How often do you spend a social evening with 1) relatives, 2) a neighbor, 3) people you work with, and 4) friends who live outside your neighborhood.”

Response: Categories included never, several times a year, about once a month, about once a week, and several times a week with codes of 0, 4, 12, 52, and 208, respectively.

2nd set of dependent variables: Measures the respondents’ frequency in the engagement of social events

Questions: “About how often do you do the following things: 1) attend a social event at your church or synagogue, 2) go to a bar or tavern, 3) participate in a group recreational activity such as bowling, golf, square dancing, etc.”

Response: The response categories were identical to those in the previous set.

The final set of dependent variables: Measures respondents’ social activity in different types of organizations

Question: “Here is a list of various kinds of organizations. How often, if at all, do you participate in each type of organization: 1) fraternal groups, 2) service clubs, 3) veteran’s groups, 4) political groups, 5) labor unions, 6) sports groups, 7) youth groups, 8) school-related groups, 9) hobby or garden clubs, 10) school fraternities or sororities, 11) literary, art, study or discussion groups, and 12) professional or academic societies?”

Results: Identical categories as the previous sets, which were converted to reflect respondent’s average annual contacts →

  1. Frequency of participation in literary, art, study, or discussion groups and professional or academic societies,

  2. Frequency of participation in Veteran’s, political, and labor unions.

  3. Frequency of participation in sports, youth, and school-related groups.

  4. Frequency of participation in fraternal groups, service clubs, and fraternities or sororities.

  5. Frequency of participation in hobby or garden clubs.

1st set of independent variables: Grew up without siblings + Gender

Response: (1 = yes). Again, the respondents defined “having no siblings” grew up without full, half, or step-siblings in the household. Only children in this survey were defined as growing up without full, half, or step-siblings from birth through age 18.

There were many small dummy/continuous variables used in the test. Here is a shorter list of the remaining.

  1. Marital Status of Parents (66% of the total respondents)

  2. Marital or Cohabiting Status of Oneself (59% of the respondents)

  3. Number of Children in the Household (there were three age groups provided in the survey, 0-5, 6-12, and 13-17) (<1 child on average for the respondents’ households)

  4. Hours Worked Last Week (around 24 hours)

  5. Education Level (the average respondent had completed a high school education)

  6. Household Income measured in thousands (around $29,000)

  7. Race/Ethnicity (approximately 73% white, 8% Hispanic, 18% Black, and 1% other)

  8. Self-Reported Health Status (there were five response categories from “very poor” to ”excellent”, and the average respondents rated their health as “good.”)


The test used OLS regression to explore the relationships with the variables above, which led to the following conclustions:

No Difference:

  • Respondents with siblings tend to see their relatives more often (average of 40 times per year compared to 32 times per year for only children) with no significant difference in the frequency of socializing with others outside of family.

  • Having school-age children or preschoolers does not decrease socialization with neighbors drastically, and having preschoolers especially can even cause a boost of contact with relatives

  • Living with both biological parents throughout the legal growth period seems to increase time spent with relatives

  • The frequency of going to church/synagogue events increases as an only child but the difference in attendance between only children and those with siblings decreases by 3 activities for each decade of age

Negative Impact on Socialization:

  • Women seemed to spend more time with relatives compared to coworkers and friends than men.

  • Older respondents generally participate less in all activities.

  • Having children at home/living with a partner decreases participation in all activities.

  • Living with both biological parents throughout the legal growth period seems to decrease time spent socializing with neighbors and friends.

  • Better health showed a higher level of participation and general number of social activities across all types

  • Household income and level of education tend to generally hurt socializing

  • Working more hours per week tend to decrease contact with relatives, neighbors, and friends

  • African-Americans socialize more with relatives and neighbors

  • Only children who did not live with both biological parents fewer interactions with their other relatives into adulthood.

  • Being an only child reduces socializing with friends by around 3 visits per year for every decade of age.

Conclusively, adults who grew up without siblings have fewer social activities than those who did, especially those that did not grow up with both parents. Yet, these results may also vary with age, as there are more limitations regarding certain social activities for only children, but that difference between only children and children with siblings tend to grew smaller as they grow into adulthood. Gender may also play a factor in differentiating the data as results showed that male only children participated more frequently in sports, school, and more activities than female only children. Yet the difference in frequency of engagement in these varying social activities don’t seem to have a significant difference between only children and children that grew up with siblings. The most prominent difference appears in the age group between children with and without siblings.


The one big criticism that I could give to this research paper is how there was a missed opportunity to go in-depth into the impact that siblings actually have in one’s life. Yes, social activities and the frequency of engagement in them may a be a big factor of our lives, but what’s more is that siblings have the ability to skew our perception and personalities based on their actions, both direct and directly toward us. In my personal experience, my sister had provided countless pieces of advice for me, whether it was for when I was applying to join a new club at my school, about to change schools, move countries, apply for volunteering opportunities, or simply find out how to resolve a conflict. Yet, I know this isn’t the case for many as there are countless people struggling with the burden of having to grow up looking after themselves because their sibling or siblings are struggling with a mental illness, disability, or maybe they feel overshadowed by them. Whatever the case, siblings have the potential to shape the pathway of our lives, our personality, how we handle conflicts, and more. Therefore, I think this research article might have held a more relatable connection with its readers or fellow researchers if they had considered variables such as the rate of happiness within only children compared to siblings, if their siblings struggle mentally or physically, or on a scale from 1-10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best), what kind of impact their siblings had made on their lives, and so forth. But overall, I believe the methodology of this research was decent, as even though there was an admitted fair amount of missing data and a lack of balance regarding the gender of the participants, the paper did a fine job of acknowledging each step of their process in detail with a clear analysis of their results.


Spitze, Glenna. “GROWING UP WITHOUT SIBLINGS AND ADULT SOCIABILITY BEHAVIORS.” PubReader, vol. 32, no. 9, 2011. National Library of Medicine, Accessed 18 6 2023.



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