Siblings Lower Divorce Rate
August 13, 2013

Having Siblings Lowers Your Odds Of Getting A Divorce

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Growing up with lots of siblings can be frustrating at times for young children, but a new study being presented this week at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in New York City says children from large families are less likely to get divorced later in life.

The study researcher Doug Downey, a professor of sociology at The Ohio State University, said having one or two siblings doesn’t affect the risk of divorce very much. "But when you compare children from large families to those with only one child, there is a meaningful gap in the probability of divorce," he said.

Study co-author Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, also a sociology professor at Ohio State, said her team was surprised to find such a major difference between being an only child and having siblings.

"We expected that if you had any siblings at all, that would give you the experience with personal relationships that would help you in marriage," she said. "But we found that the real story appears to be how family dynamics change incrementally with the addition of each sibling.

“Having more siblings means more experience dealing with others, and that seems to provide additional help in dealing with a marriage relationship as an adult,” Bobbitt-Zeher added.

In the study, the team used data from the General Social Survey, a national survey which included approximately 57,000 adults from 28 points around the United States between 1972 and 2012. An analysis of the data showed each additional sibling a person has lowers their chance of divorce by about 2 percent. The added risk reduction per sibling diminished significantly at around seven siblings.

To investigate reasons behind the observed differences in the divorce rates, the research team looked at a variety of factors.

"One argument might be that it isn't siblings that matter, but some other difference between large families and small families," Downey said. "It could have been that small families are more likely to have a single parent, or have some other issue that may hurt children in their future marriage relationship."

The Ohio State sociologists considered factors ranging from education to religious affiliation for both survey participants and their parents.

"When we added in all of these controls, nothing took away the relationship we saw between siblings and later divorce," Bobbitt-Zeher explained. "None of these other factors explained it away."

Downey theorized growing up with many siblings may prepare a person for relationships they will form later in life.

"Growing up in a family with siblings, you develop a set of skills for negotiating both negative and positive interactions," he said. “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.”

With birth rates and family sizes declining across the country, the new study does not paint an optimistic picture of the future of marriage in America. However, the study authors pointed out there are a number of variables that could play a role in marriage and divorce besides sibling relationships.

“There are so many factors that are related to divorce, and the number of siblings you have is just one of them," Bobbitt-Zeher said. "There is a relationship between the number of siblings and divorce, but it is not something that is going to doom your marriage if you don't have a brother or sister."