According to a study, adolescents who have a larger number of siblings tend to have poorer mental health.
From the stories of Cain and Abel and the Brothers Karamazov to the classic tale of Cinderella, the love and assistance from siblings has always been cherished.
According to recent research, children who constantly express discontent about their siblings may have valid grounds for their complaints. Teenagers with a larger number of siblings reportedly experience a greater impact on their overall happiness.
Research on adolescents in the United States and China showed that those from larger families had slightly worse mental well-being compared to those from smaller families. The most significant effects were observed in families with multiple children born within a short time frame.
According to Doug Downey, an Ohio State University professor of sociology, prior research in the field has shown both positive and negative outcomes for children with more siblings. He also noted that the latest findings were not predetermined.
The study surveyed 9,100 8th grade students in the US and 9,400 in China, all with an average age of 14, about their mental well-being. The questions asked differed between the two countries. In China, adolescents without siblings had the highest levels of mental health. In the US, children with no siblings or only one had comparable levels of mental health.
In general, the mental well-being of teenagers was poorer when they had more siblings, particularly if their siblings were older or close in age.
According to Downey and his colleagues in the Journal of Family Issues, their research supports the concept of “resource dilution” as the reasoning behind the unstated rule that states the more siblings one has, the higher the chance of neglect or failure.
According to Downey, parental resources can be compared to a pie. When a family has only one child, that child receives all the resources. However, when multiple siblings are added, each child receives less resources and attention from their parents, potentially affecting their mental health. The researchers believe that this is supported by the fact that teenagers with siblings of similar ages tend to have poorer outcomes.
However, there are other possible reasons for these findings. One explanation could be that the adolescents with the strongest mental well-being came from households with the most socioeconomic privileges. In the United States, this typically meant families with one or two children. In China, it was families with only one child, which aligns with the country’s one-child policy. Approximately one-third of Chinese children were only children, while only 12.6% of American children fit into this category.
As families with only one child become more common, there is growing interest in understanding the influence of siblings on mental well-being and other aspects. Prior research has shown various positive effects associated with having siblings, indicating a multifaceted view of both benefits and drawbacks.
Previous research conducted by Downey revealed that having more siblings was associated with better social skills and a lower likelihood of divorce later in life. This could be due to the fact that these children had already developed some level of proficiency in navigating interpersonal relationships. Additionally, a study conducted in 2016 with over 100,000 Norwegian children found that larger families were linked to improved mental well-being across various age groups.