Journal of Family Psychology1997, Vol. 11, No. 2, 210-221
Copyright 1997 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.O893-320O/97/$3.0O
Sibling Relationships in Early Adulthood
Clare M. StackerUniversity of Denver
Richard P. LanthierTexas Tech University
Wyndol FurmanUniversity of Denver
The purposes of this study were to describe the nature of sibling relationships in youngadulthood and to examine correlates of individual differences in adults' siblingrelationships. A new measure, the Adult Sibling Relationship Questionnaire (ASRQ;R. P. Lanthier & C. Stocker, 1992), was developed with 2 samples (N = 383). Thefactor structure of the ASRQ indicated that sibling relationships in early adulthoodwere characterized by 3 independent dimensions: warmth, conflict, and rivalry. Indi-vidual differences in adults' warmth, conflict, and rivalry with siblings were somewhatassociated with family structure variables and were linked to the amount of contactbetween siblings and to siblings' mental health.
In the United States, 85% of adults have atleast one sibling (Cicirelli, 1982). These rela-tionships are typically the longest lasting onesin people's lives. In childhood, individual dif-ferences in the quality of sibling relationshipsare linked to children's social, moral, and cog-nitive development, as well as to their mentalhealth (Dunn, 1983; Furman & Buhrmester,1985; Stocker, 1993). Given the prevalence ofsibling relationships and their importance inchildhood, it seems important to examine thenature of sibling relationships in adulthood.Most of the previous research on adult siblingshas focused on the elderly (see Bedford, 1989b).In the current study, we examined sibling rela-tionships in early adulthood. Specifically, wereport on the development of a new measure ofadult sibling relationships and then examinecorrelates of individual differences in adults'sibling relationships.
Clare M. Stocker and Wyndol Furman, Departmentof Psychology, University of Denver; RichardP. Lanthier, College of Education, Texas TechUniversity.
This research was supported by Grant 2F32MH10023 from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Correspondence concerning this article should beaddressed to Clare M. Stocker, Department of Psy-chology, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado80208. Electronic mail may be sent via the Internet tocstocker @ du .edu.
Dimensions of AdultSibling Relationships
The first goal of this study was to identifycharacteristics of sibling relationships on whichadults vary, In studies of children, investigatorshave consistently found a positive dimensionthat has been labeled warmth or affection(Brody, Stoneman, & Burke, 1987; Furman &Buhrmester, 1985; Stocker, Dunn, & Plomin,1989; Stocker & McHale, 1992). In early adult-hood, siblings are also likely to vary in theaffectionate features of their relationships.Some, but not all, siblings may provide supportand affection for each other as they movethrough normative developmental transitionssuch as getting married, raising a family, devel-oping a career, and, in some cases, caring foraging parents. In middle and late adulthood,siblings report feeling close and accepting ofeach other (Bedford, 1989a; Cicirelli, 1982;Gold, 1989b; Seltzer, 1989).
In addition to positive features, children's sib-ling relationships are characterized by conflictand by rivalry for parental attention and affec-tion (Dunn, 1983; Furman & Buhrmester, 1985;Stocker & McHale, 1992). It is not clearwhether conflict and rivalry are also character-istic of sibling relationships in adulthood. Onone hand, given the strength of family bonds,conflict and concerns about parental favoritismmay persist into adulthood. On the other hand,
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the conflict dimension of sibling relationshipsmay be less pronounced in adulthood than inchildhood because adult siblings choose howmuch contact they have with each other. Ac-cordingly, adult siblings generally who do notget along well may simply choose to maintainlittle contact with each other. Similarly, issuesof rivalry may be less salient in adulthood thanin childhood because adult siblings typicallyno longer live with each other or with theirparents. Research findings on the negative fea-tures of sibling relationships in adulthood havebeen mixed. In a study of middle-aged adults(Cicirelli, 1982), 88% of the participants re-ported rarely or never arguing with their sibling,and 93% reported rarely or never feeling com-petitive with their sibling. Similarly, in inter-views of elderly siblings, only 10% of the sam-ple fit a hostile typology (Gold, 1989b). Incontrast to these results from self-reports, find-ings from individuals- participating in small-group discussions showed that 45% of a sampleof 22- to 93-year-olds reported feeling rivalrytoward their sibling (Ross & Milgram, 1982).
Another relationship dimension that has ap-peared in some studies of children's siblingrelationships is relative status-power (Furman& Buhrmester, 1985). This dimension refers tothe extent to which one sibling has more poweror status than the other sibling. In childhood,power is strongly associated with the relativeage of the sibling; the older sibling typically hasmore power. It is unclear whether this is also asalient dimension in adult sibling relationships.Adult siblings are more similar to each other incognitive and social development than are childsiblings, and therefore age or other factors maybe less likely to lead to differences in poweramong adult siblings than among child siblings.Alternatively, differences in power and statusestablished in childhood may persist intoadulthood.
In sum, previous research suggests thatwarmth is likely to be present, but it is less clearwhether other dimensions such as rivalry andconflict are characteristic of sibling relation-ships in adulthood. Prior research on adult sib-lings has relied on open-ended and structuredinterviews, as well as other more qualitativemethods, and has provided little psychometricinformation about these measures (e.g., Bed-ford, 1989a; Cicirelli, 1982; Gold, 1989a; Ross& Milgram, 1982). Although these techniques
provide a wealth of information, we chose todevelop a self-report questionnaire becausesuch measures have both psychometric andpragmatic appeal. Our aim was to develop aself-report measure that was valid and reliableand that could be completed quickly in groupsettings. We developed a measure specific toadult sibling relationships because these rela-tionships differ from other close adult relation-ships. Some relationship qualities, such as ri-valry for parental affection and attention, areunique to sibling relationships. Furthermore,when relationship dimensions are similar in sib-ling and other relationships, the manifestationsof these dimensions are likely to differ. Forexample, affection in sibling relationships isexpressed differently than affection in romanticrelationships.
The Adult Sibling Relationship Questionnaire(ASRQ) focuses on adults' perceptions of sib-ling relationships because the psychologicalmeaning of a relationship and the felt support orconflict provided by that relationship reside in-ternally (Olson, 1977). These perceptions arelikely to guide and influence patterns of inter-action. Moreover, in the case of adults, percep-tions may be particularly important, becausemost sibling relationships are maintained in theabsence of daily interaction (Bedford, 1989a;Leigh, 1982).
Correlates of Individual Differences inAdult Sibling Relationships
After development of the ASRQ and exami-nation of its psychometric properties, the sec-ond goal of the present study was to examinefactors associated with individual differences inyoung adults' sibling relationships. A range ofvariables have been investigated as correlates ofindividual differences in children's sibling rela-tionships, including family constellation vari-ables and children's adjustment (Brody et al.,1987; Furman & Buhrmester, 1985; McHale &Gamble, 1989; Stocker et al., 1989; Stocker &McHale, 1992). The literature on family con-stellation variables, such as gender compositionand age spacing, has produced mixed results instudies of children's and adolescents' relation-ships (see Teti, 1992, for a review). For exam-ple, some investigators have reported that sib-lings of the same gender are closer than siblingsof different genders (Bowerman & Dobash,
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1974; Furman & Buhnnester, 1985), whereasothers have reported the opposite findings or noeffects (Abramovitch, Pepler, & Corter, 1982;Minnett, Vandell, & Santrock, 1983; Teti &Ablard, 1989). Moderate relations have beenfound between closeness in age spacing andsibling conflict in middle childhood (Furman &Buhrmester, 1985). Finally, sisters have beenshown to have closer relationships than brothersin middle age and old age (Cicirelli, 1982).
In addition to family constellation variables,other factors may be associated with individualdifferences in adult sibling relationships. Twoof these factors are the amount of contact be-tween siblings and siblings' psychologicaladjustment.
One might expect that siblings who havemore affectionate and less conflictual relation-ships would maintain closer contact with eachother than siblings who do not enjoy each oth-er's company. Alternatively, some siblings mayfeel obligated to maintain contact with eachother despite high levels of conflict or rivalry intheir relationships. In one study that examinedthis issue, the amount of contact between adultsiblings was associated with closeness in theirrelationships (Lee, Mancini, & Maxwell, 1987).Although geographic proximity may be relatedto how much contact adults have, adults wholive near