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Ohio State research: Siblings decrease likelihood of divorce

The more siblings you have, the less likely you are to get divorced, according to two Ohio State researchers, as their recent study found children with more siblings could be 2 percent less likely per sibling to get divorced as adults.

Doug Downey, an OSU sociology professor, and Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, an assistant professor of sociology at OSU’s Marion campus, are the co-authors of a study that began with young children, Downey said.

In addition to the 20,000 kindergartners examined for the study, Downey and Bobbitt-Zeher took data from the General Social Survey, made up of about 57,000 adult interviews from 1972 to 2012, according to the study’s press release. The participants were contacted at four different points in time, Downey said.

“(Our) study started about 10 years ago with teachers evaluating children’s social skills,” Downey said. “Children without siblings rated less well than children with siblings … The next logical question was ‘what happens as children grow up? Is there any evidence of these social skills as (they) go into adulthood?’”

Downey and Bobbitt-Zeher wanted to know if having siblings could be beneficial in other ways.

“What we thought we would find would be that having some siblings might provide more opportunity for people as they are growing up,” Bobbitt-Zeher said. “Opportunities to negotiate, get along with people, build skills and relationships over time.”

Downey agreed that it’s “reasonable to suspect that sibling interactions lead to relationship building skills.”

Downey and Bobbitt-Zeher said they were surprised to find there isn’t simply a difference between being an only child and having siblings, but there is also a change in family dynamics with the addition of each sibling up to about seven children.

“Each added sibling reduced the chance of divorce by 2 percent,” Bobbitt-Zeher said.

Downey clarified, though, it is merely a correlation and not a causal variable — having siblings may not cause someone to be less likely to get divorced, but the two factors are somehow related.

There are other factors that could lead to divorce later in life, including the environment individuals grow up in, the level of education they attain, their income level, their race, their religious beliefs and their gender role attitudes. Downey kept these factors in mind but said “even with those factors statistically controlled, siblings were still a factor.”

Some OSU students, though, were skeptical of the results.

Morgan Crouse, a third-year in health sciences, is the youngest of three children and was surprised at the research results.

“I’m a girl and I have two older brothers,” Crouse said. “If anything, (having more siblings) made it harder. I’m more shy because they were protective.”

Other students felt the study made sense based on their experiences.

Mackenzie Hendrock, a fourth-year in biology, agreed with the results. She has one younger sister.

“The more kids a family has would unify them,” Hendrock said. She also noted it would depend on the individual family dynamics.

“(In my family), it was not just an only child,” Hendrock said. “There was another person to think about, to teach good morals and to put through college … Having a younger sister (taught me) to play and to share. (I think it) would increase social skills.”

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