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Sibling Relationships in Early Adulthood · Sibling Relationships in Early Adulthood Clare M. Stacker University of Denver Richard P. Lanthier Texas Tech University Wyndol Furman

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  • 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,

    210

  • ADULT SIBLINGS 211

    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,

  • 212 STOCKER, LANTHIER, AND FURMAN

    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 each other can choose not to commu-nicate, and adult siblings who live far apart canmaintain contact through the mail and over thetelephone. Proximity, then, does not guaranteecontact. In the current study, the amount ofcontact between siblings, but not their geo-graphic proximity, was expected to be associ-ated with the quality of sibling relationships.

    Adults' mental health or psychological func-tioning was expected to be associated widivariations in their sibling relationships. In par-ticular, adults with healthy psychological func-tioning and high self-esteem were hypothesizedto have warmer sibling relationships, and thosewith poor psychological functioning and lowerself-esteem were expected to have more con-flictual and rivalrous relationships with theirsiblings. These predictions were based on sev-eral factors. First, the quality of sibling relation-ships in childhood has been associated withself-esteem, depression, anxiety, and behaviorproblems (McHale & Gamble, 1989; Stocker,1993). Second, if adults are experiencing diffi-culty in psychological functioning, they mayeither perceive their relationships to be more

    negative than others or be unable to maintainpositive sibling relationships. Finally, conflic-tual or rivalrous sibling relationships could leadto feelings of low self-esteem, depression, oranxiety in adults.

    In summary, this study had two goals. Thefirst was to develop a psychometrically soundself-report questionnaire to assess sibling rela-tionship qualities in adulthood. The second goalwas to examine associations between character-istics of adult sibling relationships and fami-ly constellation variables, contact betweensiblings, and siblings' mental health and self-esteem.

    Method

    Sample

    Data were collected from two samples of youngadults, one in Colorado and one in Indiana. Partici-pants were volunteers from undergraduate classes. Inthe Colorado sample, students participated in thestudy to earn extra credit. In the Indiana sample,students had a course requirement to participate in aresearch study. The current study was one of severalstudies students could select. Students reported abouta full biological sibling who was at least 17 years old.In cases in which participants had more than onesibling who was 17 years old, half of the participantswere randomly assigned to report on the sibling theygot along with best and half were asked to report onthe sibling they got along with worst.

    The Colorado participants were 148 undergraduatestudents (40 men and 108 women). Twenty-three ofthe male students reported about their relationshipswith brothers, and 17 reported about their relation-ships with sisters. Fifty-three female students re-ported about their relationships with sisters, and 55reported about their relationships with brothers.Seventy-six percent of the participants reported abouta relationship with an older sibling, and 24% de-scribed a relationship with a younger sibling. Morestudents reported on their relationship with an oldersibling than with a younger sibling because siblingswere limited to those 17 years of age or older. Theaverage age of participants was 20.60 years (SD 2.15), and the average age of siblings was 23.00 years(SD = 3.79). The average age difference betweensiblings was 3.47 years (SD = 2.34). The averagenumber of children in the participants' families was3.21 (SD = 1.49).

    The Indiana sample included 235 undergraduatestudents (88 men and 147 women). Forty-nine of themale students reported about their relationships withbrothers, and 39 reported about sisters. Seventy-twoof the female students reported about relationships

  • ADULT SIBLINGS 213

    with sisters, and 75 reported about relationships withbrothers. Because younger siblings had to be at least17 years old, 89% of the students reported on theirrelationship with an older sibling, and 11 % rated theirrelationship with a younger sibling. The mean age ofparticipants was 19.30 years (SD 1.46), and theaverage age of siblings was 22.40 years (SD 2.61).The average age difference between siblings was3.63 years (SD - 2.19). The average number ofchildren in the participants' families was 3.03 (SD =1.31).

    The two samples were very similar in ethnicity andincome. The majority of participants were Caucasian(81% in the Colorado sample and 89% in the Indianasample). Students in both samples reported familyincomes in the middle-class to upper-middle-classrange.

    Procedure

    Questionnaires were administered to participantsin small groups, and participants received coursecredit for taking part in the study. A subsample of 62participants in the Colorado sample completed thequestionnaire 2 weeks later so that data for test-retestreliability could be collected. Data were also col-lected from 118 siblings of participants in the Indianasample. Students provided the researchers with theaddresses of their siblings, and questionnaires weremailed to the siblings. Siblings who returned thequestionnaires had their names entered in a lottery towin $50.

    Measures

    ASRQ. The ASRQ assesses respondents' percep-tions of their own behavior and feelings toward theirsibling, as well as their perceptions of their sibling'sbehavior and feelings toward them. The question-naire includes 81 items conceptually grouped into 14scales: Intimacy, Affection, Knowledge, Acceptance,Similarity, Admiration, Emotional Support, Instru-mental Support, Dominance, Competition, Antago-nism, Quarrelling, Maternal Rivalry, and PaternalRivalry. The ASRQ items are included in theAppendix.

    For all ASRQ items (except rivalry items), partic-ipants rate how characteristic each item is of them-selves and of their sibling using Likert scales rangingfrom hardly at all (1) to extremely much (5). Mater-nal and paternal rivalry items (Items 11, 12, 23, 24,38,39,50,51,65,66,77, and 78) are rated on 5-pointLikert scales (1 = participant is usually favored, 2 =participant is sometimes favored, 3 neither partic-ipant nor sibling is favored, 4 = sibling is sometimesfavored, 5 = sibling is usually favored). These itemswere recoded as absolute discrepancy scores (0 =neither child is favored, 1 = parents sometimes favor

    one child over the other, 2 = parents usually favorone child over the other.1 Factor analyses and psy-chometric properties of the ASRQ are presented inthe Results section; the following section describeshow the measure was developed.

    ASRQ development. ASRQ items were devel-oped on the basis of a conceptual analysis of previousresearch on sibling relationships in adulthood andchildhood (Bedford, 1989a; Brody et al., 1987; Cici-relli, 1982; Furman & Buhrmester, 1985; Stacker etal., 1989; Stocker & McHale, 1992). The initial poolof items was based on key relationship dimensionsthat prior investigators had described. We were par-ticularly interested in developing an adult extensionof the Sibling Relationship Questionnaire (Furman &Buhrmester, 1985). The Sibling Relationship Ques-tionnaire has excellent psychometric properties andhas been used successfully in numerous studies ofchildren and adolescents (Begun, 1989; Brody,Stoneman, & McCoy, 1992; Buhrmester & Furman,1990; Stoneman & Brody, 1993). A sample of 30young adults completed a 100-item pilot version ofthe ASRQ and provided open-ended descriptions oftheir sibling relationships. On the basis of psycho-metric analyses, participants' descriptions of theirsibling relationships, and verbal feedback from par-ticipants, a number of changes were made in thequestionnaire. The original ASRQ included separatescales for the participant's reports about his or herbehavior toward the sibling and for the participant'sreports about his or her sibling's behavior. Becausethese ratings were very highly correlated, the scaleswere combined to create the 14 dyadic relationshipscales described previously. In addition, items thatwere redundant or hard to understand were deleted orchanged. The final version of the ASRQ includes 81items.

    Social desirability. As a means of assessing so-cially desirable responding, participants completedthe Impression Management scale from the BalancedInventory of Desirable Responding (Paulhus, 1991).Participants use a 7-point Likert scale ranging fromnot true (1) to very true (7) to rate 20 items aboutwhether they present themselves in an overly positivelight. The Balanced Inventory of Desirable Respond-ing has demonstrated strong psychometric properties(Paulhus, 1991). In the current study, the ImpressionManagement scale had an alpha of .75.

    Contact and geographic proximity between sib-lings. Participants used 5-point Likert scales to ratehow often they saw their sibling, got together withtheir sibling on special occasions, telephoned theirsibling, and were telephoned by their sibling. These

    1 Wording of ASRQ response alternatives variesslightly for different items. A complete version of theASRQ and scoring instructions can be obtained fromRichard P. Lanthier, College of Education, TexasTech University, Box 41071, Lubbock, Texas 79409.

  • 214 STOCKER, LANTHffiR, AND FURMAN

    items formed an internally consistent scale (a .78)that showed high test-retest reliability over a 2-weekperiod (r = .85). The ratings on these four items wereaveraged to create the contact measure. Siblings'geographic proximity was assessed by asking partic-ipants to indicate how many miles they lived fromtheir sibling (1 = same city; 2 = different city, lessthan 100 miles; 3 = more than 200 miles; 4 = morethan 500 miles; 5 more than 1,000 miles).

    Mental health. Psychological functioning wasmeasured by the Brief Symptom Inventory (Deroga-tis & Melisaratos, 1983) in the Colorado sample. Thisinventory yields a total score that assesses overallmental health. The internal consistency alpha for thescale in the current sample was .96. Derogatis andMelisaratos (1983) also reported high test-retest re-liability and convergent validity with scales from theMinnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (Hatha-way & McKinley, 1951).

    Self-esteem. Students in the Indiana sample com-pleted the Global Self-Worth scale from the Self-Perception Profile for College Students (Neeman &Harter, 1986). This scale includes six items that areaveraged to assess individuals' perceptions of theiroverall self-worth. Questions are written in a struc-tured alternative format, individuals first decidewhich of two descriptions fits for them, and then theyrate the description as "sort of true" or "really true."A sample item is "Some people like the kind ofperson they are but other people wish they weredifferent." The scale was internally consistent in thecurrent sample (a - .84). Items on the originalmeasure use the word student (e.g., "Some studentslike the kind of person they are"). In the current

    study, the word person was substituted for student sothat nonstudents could complete the questionnaire.

    Results

    First, psychometric and descriptive informa-tion on the ASRQ is presented. Second, resultsfrom correlational analyses of associationsamong characteristics of sibling relationships,family structure variables, contact, mentalhealth, and self-esteem are reported. Results arepresented for the Colorado and Indiana samplecombined because the two samples had verysimilar backgrounds and demographiccharacteristics.

    ASRQ Psychometric and DescriptiveInformation

    Descriptive statistics, internal consistency es-timates, 2-week test-retest reliabilities, and cor-relations between the scale scores and the socialdesirability measure for each of the ASRQscales are provided in Table 1. High levels ofinternal consistency were observed for all of thescales, and there was adequate variability in theratings on each of the scales. Two of the 14scales (Competition and Dominance) were sig-nificantly correlated with social desirability, al-though the magnitude of these correlations was

    Table 1Descriptive Statistics and Psychometric Properties of Adult Sibling Relationship Questionnaire(ASRQ) Scales

    ASRQ scale

    AcceptanceAdmirationAffectionAntagonismCompetitionDominanceEmotional SupportIntimacyInstrumental SupportKnowledgeMaternal RivalryPaternal RivalryQuarrellingSimilarity

    M

    3.733.653.512.112.192.073.223.052.663.350.720.662.453.01

    SD

    0.760.720.950.840.930.720.960.920.820.810.590.640.820.86

    a

    .88

    .83

    .92

    .90

    .85

    .74

    .90

    .91

    .76

    .88

    .85

    .89

    .86

    .83

    Retest r

    .84**

    .87**

    .93**'78**.88**.75**.90**92**!86**.89**!85**79**.84**.83**

    Social desirability r

    .04

    .09

    .04- . 0 7 . 2 1 * *- ! i 4 *

    .05

    .05

    .01

    .10-.04

    .01- .11- .01

    Note. With the exception of Maternal Rivalry and Paternal Rivalry, scale scores range from 1-5; higher scoresindicate more of a given dimension. Maternal Rivalry and Paternal Rivalry scores range from 0-2; higherscores indicate greater rivalry. N = 383 except for retest r and social desirability r (s = 62 and 304,respectively).*p < .05. **p < .01.

  • ADULT SIBLINGS 215

    low (mean r - - .17). Finally, participants'scores were stable across the 2-week period, asevidenced by the high and statistically reliabletest-retest correlations.

    To investigate the underlying structure ofthe ASRQ scales, we conducted a principal-components analysis with oblique rotation ondata from the combined samples. Before anal-ysis, all scale scores were transformed to zscores. A three-factor solution was selected be-cause (a) three eigenvalues were greater thanone, (b) the scree plot was most consistent witha three-factor solution, and (c) this solution wasthe most conceptually meaningful The threefactors accounted for 70% of the variance. Fac-tor analysis was also completed on the Coloradoand Indiana samples separately, and resultswere essentially identical in the two indepen-dent samples.

    Results from the factor analysis are shown inTable 2. The first factor was labeled Warmthbecause it included intimacy, admiration, affec-tion, acceptance, similarity, knowledge of thesibling, and support scales. The second factorwas labeled Conflict because quarrelling, dom-inance, antagonism, and competition loadedhighly on it. Finally, maternal and paternal ri-valry loaded on the third factor, which waslabeled Rivalry. This factor assesses the extentto which participants feel that their parents treatthem and their sibling fairly or favor one sibling

    over the other. Composite factor scores wereformed by unit weighting each item from eachof the subscales. Factor scores were minimallycorrelated: Warmth and Conflict, r = - .19;Warmth and Rivalry, r = - .17; and Conflictand Rivalry, r = .23 (all ps < .05).

    A relative power-status dimension did notemerge from the factor analysis. Because thiscould have reflected the fact that the items aboutparticipants and siblings were combined, a sec-ond factor analysis using the separate scales forparticipants' reports about their own behaviorand their reports about their siblings' behaviorwas conducted. An independent relative power-status factor did not emerge from this analysis.

    Psychometric properties and descriptive datafor the factor scores are summarized in Table 3.As was the case for the scale scores, the factorscores had adequate variability and high levelsof internal consistency. Factor scores were verystable across the 2-week test-retest period (test-retest results were available only in the Colo-rado sample). The Warmth and Rivalry factorscores were not significantly correlated with thesocial desirability measure, but the Conflict fac-tor score was; however, the magnitude of thiscorrelation was small (r A6,p< .05).

    Convergent validity was demonstrated bycorrelating participants' reports with the reportsof the 118 siblings who completed the ASRQ.There was substantial agreement between the

    Table 2Oblique-Rotated Factor Pattern Matrix From Principal-ComponentsAnalysis of Adult Sibling Relationship Questionnaire (ASRQ) Scales

    ASRQ scale

    IntimacyEmotional SupportAffectionKnowledgeInstrumental SupportSimilarityAdmirationAcceptanceQuarrellingAntagonismDominanceCompetitionPaternal RivalryMaternal Rivalry

    % of variance

    Warmth

    .92

    .90

    .89

    .87

    .72

    .71

    .71

    .64

    41

    Factor

    Conflict

    .29- .17

    - .43.90.87.86.65

    21

    Rivalry

    .86

    .839

    h2

    .83

    .80

    .80

    .75

    .56

    .57

    .57

    .67

    .82

    .81

    .75

    .42

    .72

    .71

    Note. Shown are reordered oblique-rotated principal-components (N = 383).Loadings below |.25| are not shown for clarity.

  • 216 STOCKER, LANTHffiR, AND FURMAN

    Table 3Descriptive Statistics and Psychometric Properties of Adult SiblingRelationship Questionnaire (ASRQ) Factors

    ASRQ factor M SD Retest r Social desirability r

    WarmthConflictRivalry

    3.282.190.70

    0.690.690.52

    .97

    .93.95**89**.87**

    .06- .16**

    .02Note. Warmth and Conflict scores range from 1-5; higher scores indicate higherlevels of the factor. Rivalry scores range from 0-2; higher scores indicate greaterrivalry. N = 383 except for retest r and social desirability r (s = 79 and 304,respectively).**p < .01.

    two siblings' perceptions of their relationship.Correlations between siblings were .60 forWarmth, .54 for Conflict, and .33 for Rivalry(allps < .01). Together, these convergent cor-relations averaged .49. Discriminant validitywas assessed by examining the cross-rater cor-relations of different factors. The average of thesix discriminant correlations was .14, suggest-ing considerable discriminant validity amongthe factors.

    Correlates of Individual Differences inAdult Sibling Relationships

    Several significant associations occurred be-tween family structure variables and sibling re-lationship characteristics (see Table 4). Largeage differences between siblings were associ-ated with less conflictual sibling relationships.Siblings of different genders reported less con-flict in their relationships than siblings of thesame gender. Female participants reported morerivalry in their sibling relationships than maleparticipants. Participants who had female sib-lings, however, reported warmer and more con-flictual relationships than those who had malesiblings. Finally, the number of children in afamily was negatively correlated with warmthand positively associated with rivalry.

    Table 4 also shows the correlations of thesibling relationship dimensions with contact,geographic distance, mental health, and self-esteem (mental health scores were availableonly in the Colorado sample, and self-esteemscores were available only in the Indiana sam-ple). The amount of contact siblings had witheach other was positively associated withwarmth in the sibling relationship and nega-tively related to rivalry. Contact and geographic

    distance were significantly correlated (r - .30, p < .05), meaning that siblings had lesscontact with each other if they lived furtherapart. Despite this significant correlation, nosignificant relations were found between thegeographic distance between siblings and thecharacteristics of their relationships. Supple-mentary analyses also revealed no differences inrelationship quality between siblings living inthe same city and those who did not. Finally,participants' mental health was negatively cor-related with sibling conflict. Participants whohad high scores on psychological functioningreported less conflict in their relationships thanthose with low scores.

    Table 4Correlations Among Adult SiblingRelationship Questionnaire (ASRQ)Dimensions and Family Structure Variables,Contact, Geographic Distance, Mental Health,and Self-Esteem

    Variable

    Age differenceGender differenceGenderSibling genderNumber of childrenContactDistanceMental healthSelf-esteem

    Warmth

    - .01-.07

    .09

    .12*-.10*

    .67**

    .07- .02

    .11

    ASRQ factor

    Conflict

    - .23**-.16**- .09

    .11*- .10

    .02- .02-.20**- .09

    Rivalry

    .04

    .05

    .11*

    .04

    .11*- . 1 1 *

    .04

    .11

    .00Note. Mental health data were obtained from Col-orado participants only ( = 148). Self-esteem datawere obtained from Indiana participants only (n =238). Gender was coded as 1 = male, 2 = female;gender difference was coded as 1 = same gender,2 = opposite gender.*p < .05. **p < .01.

  • ADULT SIBLINGS 217

    Discussion

    ASRQ Psychometric and DescriptiveInformation

    Sibling relationships in adulthood were char-acterized by three dimensions: warmth, conflict,and rivalry. These three dimensions, which aresimilar to those found in childhood and adoles-cence (Buhrmester & Furman, 1990; Furman &Buhrmester, 1985; Stocker et al., 1989; Stocker& McHale, 1992), may be characteristic of sib-ling relationships throughout much of the lifespan. In fact, a warmth or affection dimensionhas been observed in past work on middle-agedand elderly adult siblings (Bedford, 1989a;Cicirelli, 1982; Gold, 1989b; Seltzer, 1989).

    Whereas one might intuitively expect warmthto be a salient dimension of adult sibling rela-tionships, it is not as apparent that conflict andrivalry would be important relationship dimen-sions. After all, adult siblings generally liveapart from one another and can determine howmuch contact they have with each other. Con-flict could be avoided by disengagement anddistance. Although some siblings may use anavoidant strategy, the present findings indicatethat some pairs of siblings continued to haveperiodic conflicts or at least perceived that theydid. Similarly, as found in some previous stud-ies (Bedford, 1989a; Gold, 1989b; Ross & Mil-gram, 1982), siblings reported feelings of ri-valry and concern over parental attention, eventhough few continued to reside with theirparents.

    Perceptions of conflict and rivalry were min-imally related to perceptions of warmth. Thisfinding is consistent with past work on chil-dren's relationships (Dunn, 1983; Furman &Buhrmester, 1985; Stocker et al., 1989) andmay reflect the ambivalent feelings many indi-viduals have toward siblings. Adult siblings canhave feelings of warmth as well as conflict orrivalry toward their sibling. These positive andnegative perceptions are not opposite ends of aunitary dimension. Although perceptions of ri-valry and conflict were statistically related, thestrength of these associations was quite modest(r = .23). This relation is smaller than has beenfound in childhood (r = .35 in Furman & Buhr-mester, 1985), which suggests that concernsover parental attention are probably not the pri-mary basis of conflict among adult siblings.

    Unlike the case in some research on children

    (Furman & Buhrmester, 1985), relative status-power did not emerge as a dimension of adultsibling relationships. In adulthood, develop-mental differences between siblings are less sa-lient than in childhood, and siblings thereforemay have more egalitarian relationships. More-over, strong presses may exist for sibling rela-tionships to be egalitarian in adulthood. Afterall, what younger sibling is willing to acquiesceto an older one's "wisdom" once they have bothreached adulthood?

    Participants' and siblings' independent re-ports of their relationships were significantlycorrelated. This provides validational supportfor the ASRQ and is of substantive interest. Ashas been found in childhood (Furman, Jones,Buhrmester, & Adler, 1989), adult siblings hadsimilar perceptions of warmth and conflict butwere less similar in their views of rivalry. Theindexes of warmth and, particularly, conflict areoften overt and apparent to the two siblings. Incontrast, rivalry for parental attention and affec-tion may be a sensitive subject and one notshared between siblings.

    In summary, the ASRQ appears to be a prom-ising measure of adults* sibling relationships.Evidence of the reliability and validity of thesibling relationship dimensions derived fromthe ASRQ was encouraging. Correlations be-tween the relationship dimensions and socialdesirability were minimal, and internal consis-tency estimates and 2-week test-retest reliabili-ties were high.

    Correlates of Individual Differences inAdult Sibling Relationships

    A number of significant associations werefound between family structure variables andperceptions of sibling relationships. Siblingswho were further apart in age perceived lessconflict in their relationships than siblings whowere close in age. Siblings of different gendersreported less conflict in their relationships thansiblings of the same gender. These findings areconsistent with research on sibling relationshipsin childhood and adolescence (Bowerman &Dobash, 1974; Buhrmester & Furman, 1990;Furman & Buhrmester, 1985; Koch, 1960; Min-nett et al., 1983).

    It is not clear whether the effects of familystructure variables carry over from childhood orwhether they stem from contemporary interac-

  • 218 STOCKER, LANTHIER, AND FURMAN

    tions in adulthood. That is, is there somethingabout the current relationships of same-gendersiblings, for example, that may make theirinteractions more conflictual than opposite-gender pairs, or do their perceptions come fromearlier interactions? Longitudinal studies andobservations of adult sibling interactions areneeded to answer these questions.

    The number of children in a family was neg-atively associated with warmth and positivelycorrelated with rivalry. This finding is intrigu-ing because almost all of these adults were nolonger living together. It is not obvious how onecan account for this result unless it reflects someresidual effect of earlier experiences in child-hood. That is, when families are larger, siblingrelationships may have been less close andwarm, and these relationships may have contin-ued in that manner in adulthood. Similarly, sib-lings in large families may have viewed theirparents as having limited resources of love andattention and may be more sensitive to discrep-ancies in their parents* behavior; thus, they mayreport more rivalry than siblings in smallerfamilies.

    In general, the correlations between familystructure and sibling relationship quality werenot large. As has been found in childhood, fam-ily constellation variables explain little of thevariance in sibling relationship quality (Furman& Buhrmester, 1985; Stocker et al , 1989).Marked variation in relationship quality occurswithin any particular type of family constella-tion as well as among different ones.

    In the present study, factors other than familystructure were more strongly associated withindividual differences in adults' sibling rela-tionships. Specifically, the amount of contactbetween siblings was positively correlated withperceptions of warmth and negatively corre-lated with rivalry. Siblings who have particu-larly warm relationships may maintain closecontact with each other, and such contact mayfoster perceptions of warmth. Siblings whohave rivalrous relationships may choose tomaintain little contact with each other. At thesame time, geographic distance was not signif-icantly associated with characteristics of siblingrelationships. In adulthood, as opposed to child-hood, siblings can largely determine the amountof interaction they have. Even if they live faraway from each other, adults can have a greatdeal of contact with their brothers and sisters bywriting and telephoning and perhaps periodi-

    cally seeing one another. This contact, ratherthan geographic proximity, is what was relatedto the qualitative features of their relationships.

    Finally, adults who had high scores on psy-chological functioning reported lower levels ofconflict in their sibling relationships than adultswith worse mental health scores. Adults withpoor psychological functioning may perceivetheir relationships as conflictual, and they mayalso behave in a manner that leads to conflictsbetween them and their siblings. Another pos-sibility is that conflictual sibling relationshipscan contribute to poor psychological function-ing if they raise individuals' stress levels. Withcorrelational analyses, it is impossible to deter-mine the direction of these effects. In futurework, it would be interesting to determinewhether the links between sibling relationshipquality and mental health stem from relation-ship experiences in childhood and adolescenceor whether the current relationship is morestrongly associated.

    It should be noted that contact was part of thesame self-report questionnaire as the ASRQ.Thus, the associations between contact and sib-ling warmth may be inflated somewhat becauseof shared method variance. In fact, this studyfocused exclusively on adults' perceptions oftheir sibling relationships. Perceptions are cen-tral aspects of sibling relationships, but they donot provide a complete picture of the relation-ships. Subsequent research should include ob-servations of adult brothers and sisters interact-ing. The present findings may provide someguidelines for such work. For example, it wouldbe interesting to determine whether conflictual,rivalrous, and warm interactions are as indepen-dent of each other as the perceptions of themare. Similarly, it will be important to determinehow patterns of interaction vary as a function offamily structure variables, contact, and mentalhealth.

    Our sample was predominantly Caucasianand middle to upper middle class, and it wascomposed of undergraduate students. Researchon different ethnic and socioeconomic groups,as well as on young adults who are not incollege, is needed to determine the generaliz-ability of the current findings. Finally, futurework should determine whether the ASRQ isappropriate for examining sibling relationshipsin middle and late adulthood. It is our hope thatthe present study will encourage further re-

  • ADULT SIBLINGS 219

    search into the longest lasting relationship inmost adults' lives.

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    Appendix

    Adult Sibling Relationship Questionnaire Items

    1. How much do you and this sibling have in common?2. How much do you talk to this sibling about things that are important to you?3. How much does this sibling talk to you about things that are important to him or her?4. How much do you and this sibling argue with each other?5. How much does this sibling think of you as a good friend?6. How much do you think of this sibling as a good friend?7. How much do you irritate this sibling?8. How much does this sibling irritate you?9. How much does this sibling admire you?

    10. How much do you admire this sibling?11. Do you think your mother favors you or this sibling more?12. Does this sibling think your mother favors him/her or you more?13. How much does this sibling try to cheer you up when you are feeling down?14. How much do you try to cheer this sibling up when he or she is feeling down?15. How competitive are you with this sibling?16. How competitive is this sibling with you?17. How much does this sibling go to you for help with non-personal problems?18. How much do you go to this sibling for help with non-personal problems?19. How much do you dominate this sibling?20. How much does this sibling dominate you?21. How much does this sibling accept your personality?22. How much do you accept this sibling" s personality?23. Do you think your father favors you or this sibling more?24. Does this sibling think your father favors him/her or you more?25. How much does this sibling know about you?26. How much do you know about this sibling?27. How much do you and this sibling have similar personalities?28. How much do you discuss your feelings or personal issues with this sibling?29. How much does this sibling discuss his or her feelings or personal issues with you?30. How often does this sibling criticize you?31. How often do you criticize this sibling?32. How close do you feel to this sibling?33. How close does this sibling feel to you?34. How often does this sibling do things to make you mad?35. How often do you do things to make mis sibling mad?36. How much do you think that this sibling has accomplished a great deal in life?37. How much does this sibling think that you have accomplished a great deal in life?38. Does this sibling think your mother supports him/her or you more?39. Do you think your mother supports you or this sibling more?40. How much can you count on this sibling to be supportive when you are feeling stressed?41. How much can this sibling count on you to be supportive when he or she is feeling stressed?42. How much does this sibling feel jealous of you?43. How much do you feel jealous of this sibling?44. How much do you give this sibling practical Advice? (e.g. household or car advice)45. How much does this sibling give you practical advice?46. How much is this sibling bossy with you?

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    47. How much are you bossy with this sibling?48. How much do you accept this sibling's lifestyle?49. How much does this sibling accept your lifestyle?50. Does this sibling think your father supports him/her or you more?51. Do you think your father supports you or this sibling more?52. How much do you know about this sibling's relationships?53. How much does this sibling know about your relationships?54. How much do you and this sibling think alike?55. How much do you really understand this sibling?56. How much does this sibling really understand you?57. How much does this sibling disagree with you about things?58. How much do you disagree with this sibling about things?59. How much do you let this sibling know you care about him or her?60. How much does this sibling let you know he or she cares about you?61. How much does this sibling put you down?62. How much do you put this sibling down?63. How much do you feel proud of this sibling?64. How much does this sibling feel proud of you?65. Does this sibling think your mother is closer to him/her or you?66. Do you think your mother is closer to you or this sibling?67. How much do you discuss important personal decisions with this sibling?68. How much does this sibling discuss important personal decisions with you?69. How much does this sibling try to perform better than you?70. How much do you try to perform better than this sibling?71. How likely is it you would go to this sibling if you needed financial assistance?72. How likely is it this sibling would go to you if he or she needed financial assistance?73. How much does this sibling act in superior ways to you?74. How much do you act in superior ways to this sibling?75. How much do you accept this sibling's ideas?76. How much does this sibling accept your ideas?77. Does this sibling think your father is closer to him/her or you?78. Do you think your father is closer to you or this sibling?79. How much do you know about this sibling's ideas?80. How much does this sibling know about your ideas?81. How much do you.and this sibling lead similar lifestyles?

    Received October 16, 1995Revision received May 9, 1996

    Accepted May 10, 1996