Sociology 2235 Chapter Notes - Chapter 11: Birth Weight, Fertility Medication, Nocturnal Enuresis
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Chapter 11 Review: Sibling Relationships and Situations
Almost 80% of Canadians have at least one sibling; thus, it is a very important type of familial
relationship, which also generally outlasts the parent-child relationship.
When children reach adulthood, the sibling relationship in industrial societies, particularly those of
western cultures, becomes discretionary. That is, continuing the relationship is a matter of choice and
is secondary to the spousal and parent-child ones. In contrast, in other societies, continuation of the
singling relationship into adulthood is the norm and is of fundamental importance for a family’s
integration into society at large. Sibling relationships, particularly between two brothers or two
sisters, may actually be more consequential than their relationship with a spouse, both at the social
and economic level still, in Canada, most adults perceive that they have obligations toward their
siblings. The Sibling Relationship Begins
The transition to a two-child family is one that parents have to help the first-born negotiate. Children
who are between two and four years of age are particularly affected, because their entire life has been
sent as their parents’ only child. Children who are older are more competent cognitively and can
understand the situation better.
Generally, whether the first-born child recognizes it or not, the birth of a second baby transforms his
or her life entirely, as well as that of the family as a system. A new set of interactions is created, those
between siblings. With the arrival of a second baby, the older child generally has a lower chance of
experiencing a parental divorce: happily married couples are more likely to add another child to their
family than couples who are not happy together.
With the arrival of each baby, parents spend more time interacting with their children altogether, but
they have less time for each child individually. With the arrival of the second child, the mother-child
relationship often becomes less affectionate, particularly if the spacing between the two children is
small and the family experiences a reduction in income per person. The mothers’ parenting style at
times becomes more punitive and the older child may feel less securely attached. As a result of all
these changes, the first-born child occasionally suffers from a variety of problems of adjustment,
including anxiety, clinging behaviour, bed-wetting, and even aggressiveness.
The child’s reaction to the baby’s arrival is largely tailored by his or her personality as well as by the
steps that parents undertake to reassure and involve him or her. Dunn (1994) points out that small
children who are intense and less adaptable react more negatively to the baby’s arrival than children
with a sunnier and more content disposition. The former may even protest when the mother pays
attention to the infant.
Consequences of Children’s Spacing
With four years or more of spacing between the two children, the parents’ relationship with the first-
born may continue to be exclusive during a portion of the day as the bay sleeps. With this much
spacing, each sibling is in a way an only child, and little competition takes place.
In terms of educational achievement, children do less well, on average, when they are closely spaced,
as this holds true for to-children and larger families. When one child is several years older, however,
the two children have different needs at different times and receive more individual attention. The
older child is an only child longer and the younger child benefits both from having a sibling who is
more developed and from parents who have more time for him or her. Much older siblings are more
intellectually and socially stimulating for children than siblings closer to them in age: older children
simply know more. Smaller children tend to look up to them.
Consequences of Family Size
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In terms of number of children, those from large sibling groups generally do not do as well at school,
on average, as children from smaller families. Neither do they advance as much professionally later
on as do adults coming from smaller families. These results become less salient but nevertheless
remain when parents’ social class is taken into consideration: even upper-class parents provide fewer
resources per child in large families than in small families. The concept used to explain this family
size effect is the dilution of parental resources. In effect, this means that parents have fewer
resources for each child individually, whether in terms of time, attention, and even economic means
in fact, mothers are les responsible to their children in larger families. Therefore, a large sibling group
often dilutes the quality of the home environment available to each child. This occurs even more so
when children are closely spaced in a large family, because they interact more among themselves and
have less adult attention; they also learn less than they would with one or two much older siblings or
alone with their parents. Aggressiveness also appeals more often in larger families, and children leave
home earlier than in smaller families.
But, of course, there are plenty of expectations to the rule and there are large families, particularly
well-to-do ones, where all the children do very well at school or become high achievers in their
professions later on. These families may benefit from other resources, such as the help of relatives
and the presence of a large community of parents’ friends and colleagues who contribute to stimulate
children’s intellectual development and serve as role models. The extended family increases resources
and compensates for the dilution of the resources at the nuclear level, these families, in other words,
have more social capital to offer each individual child.
Further, as Zajonc and Mullally (1997) pointedly remark, there are advantages to large family size
that are not measured by the research perspectives emphasizing achievement. For instance, it may
well be that siblings growing up in a large family are more affiliative, more affectionate, good
leaders, less prone to depression, or otherwise healthier. They may be less individualistic and more
cooperative. They can compromise and overlook frustrating situations. However, the only reasonably
recent and large-scale study on this topic has not found any family size advantage in terms of
sociability and need to be with others. Downey and Condron (2004) reported that having one or two
siblings was positively related to better social skills; additional siblings did not provide more
On the other side of the equation, it is equally possible that some siblings in a large family suffer from
a lack of individual recognition, feel oppressed by the social pressure within their intimate group, and
are hampered by a lack of privacy. Such persons may adapt by growing up to be individualistic and
may even distance themselves from the family group. However, despite having had less individual
attention, there is no indication that adult children from large families are less attached to their parents
nor their parents to them than in small families.
o One aspect of the sibling relationship that is still not sufficiently understood is the relationship
that exists between twins and “multiples”. Twins are much studied but are so within the
perspective of behaviour genetics rather than simply as an interest in the relationship itself.
Twins who are identical are fairly constant in the population: dissimilar twins, also called
dizygotic or DZ, are more related to heredity, thus can run in families. Normally, thins and
higher-order births occur in the population at the rate of 1-2%.
o Women who have recourse to fertility drugs have a 25% chance of giving birth to more than one
baby. Furthermore, women are more likely to release multiple eggs when they are older.
Delaying parenthood consequently causes a rise in the number of multiple births.
o Nearly all multiple births have two immediate health consequences for infants: the fetuses have
to compete for scarce resources in the womb, and a majority of the infants are born prematurely
because the womb becomes too crowded. Twins therefore have low birth weight, and babies of
higher-order births can have extremely low birth weight. These infants are then at a far higher
risk of neonatal death than singletons. Prematurely born infants are also far more likely than
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others to duffer from neurological deficits, whether learning disabilities or muscle coordination
problems, although most of them make remarkable progress – and most twins and triplets
develop well. For parents, twin and multiple births require a far greater adjustment to parenting
than does a single birth: more time demands; fewer economic resources available per capita; the
necessity to seek and accept help, even from total strangers; and more health-related concerns.
Child and Adolescent Sibling Relationships
At the personal level, sibling relationships are determined by children’s characteristics, their
personality similarities and differences, parents’ behaviour toward the children, and siblings’
perception of such, given that most of these factors are reasonable stable through each childhood, one
can expect a certain degree of stability in the sibling bond. Generally, brothers and sisters whose
personalities are compatible or complementary experience greater connectedness than those who are
temperamentally incompatible. When one child has an intense or unadaptable personality, sibling
interactions are more conflictual. As well, high-activity siblings get in one another’s way and their
requirements clash quickly and frequently.
Furman and Lanthier (1996) have personality tests and a relationship questionnaire to 56 triads of
mothers and two siblings, one age 9 and the other age 11. They found that it was the older child’s
personality that more strongly affected the distribution of power in the relationship. The dimensions
of conscientiousness and agreeableness, particularly in the older child, were strong predictors of
harmony and lack of power struggle.
Dunn and colleagues (1994) found that older siblings tend to be fairly consistent over time in their
behaviour toward their younger brother or sister: aggressiveness or friendliness persists. They impact
on child development may be substantial, but it is a question that is rarely raised in research, because
theories focus on parental rather than sibling effect. It is possible that negative effects that have been
attributed to parents and to their harsh or rejecting treatment actually result from the rough handling
that a child has received from siblings or from siblings and parents together. Such a possibility
makes sense from the perspective of genetics alone: intolerant and irritable parents may produce some
offspring who are like them and may jointly have a negative impact on the sibling who is different
from the outset.
In contrast, younger siblings show less stability of behaviour toward their older siblings: they adapt
their style of interaction in order to secure the older child’s goodwill. Overall, older siblings tend to
be more domineering, and younger ones are forced to be more compliant in the relationship. Putting
these variables together, it is therefore not surprising that, in terms of development, the older child
usually, but not always, has a stronger effect on the younger one than vice versa.
By the time they were 12 or 13 years old, first-born boys in a longitudinal study by Dunn (1996)
reported a more distant relationship with their younger siblings than did first-born girls. This
difference was, in part, explained as a result of the older boys’ growing ties with their peer group. As
well, the second-born children were becoming more assertive and more willing to disagree with the
older boys, and this in turn contributed to the cooler climate. These pitfalls were less in evidence with
older sisters. Indeed, girls maintain more intimate bonds with both siblings and peers than do boys.
Thus, females begin at an early age their function of kin-keepers and emotional workers.
For a girl, having an older brother in most societies often represents a precious social resource in
male-dominated peer groups. Older brothers who are popular serve as protectors and may also
enhance a child’s status among peers at school.
Another interesting aspect in the study of siblings is that they do not perceive their relationship
similarly. This discrepancy may be explained by the age and gender differences among siblings.
Smaller children may be more susceptible to feeling left out by older siblings who, for their part, may
be more involved with peers and largely ignore the younger ones. Girls may find their brothers less
supportive, whereas boys may find it “normal” to ignore their sisters who are “just girls”.
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