470: Siblings

Did you have siblings or were you an only child? What was the best / worst part of that?


Full episode script

In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported:

In the late 1970s, the average mother at the end of her childbearing years had given birth to more than three children. Since that time, average family size has declined, driven largely by declines in families with four or more children. Now, moms have 2.4 children on average – a number that has been fairly stable for two decades.

With this changing family size comes a change in family dynamics. There’s been a similar rise in single-child families — in 1976, 11 percent of families had one child. In 2014, that had doubled to 22 percent of families.

There’s been a lot of debate as to if birth order and the number of children can have an impact on personality. As Joshua K. Hartshorne wrote in Scientific American in 2010, quote:

When I tell people I study whether birth order affects personality, I usually get blank looks. It sounds like studying whether the sky is blue. Isn’t it common sense? Popular books invoke birth order for self-discovery, relationship tips, business advice and parenting guidance in titles such as The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are.

But when scientists scrutinized the data, they found that the evidence just did not hold up. In fact, until very recently there were no convincing findings that linked birth order to personality or behavior. Thus, the evidence seems to be shifting back in favor of our common intuition that our position in our family somehow affects who we become. The details, however, remain vague.

Yet – there are possibly still impacts. In 2013, NPR ran a story about a researcher that has found that siblings may have a bigger impact on us than our parents. Quote:

Richard Rende, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University, is one of the people doing this work, and he says that some of the new findings really challenge the idea that parents are the most important influence on children.

Consider, for example, the research that looks at how much a parent who smokes influences his child to smoke, versus the degree to which an older sibling who smokes influences a younger sibling.

“Both can have an effect, but in a lot of studies they’ve found that the effect ‘older sibling smoking’ has is greater than the effect that ‘parental smoking’ has,” Rende says.

It’s the opposite of what many people assumed, he says. Older siblings are more influential.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.