URC

Adult Sibling Relationships: College Students Perspective

Katelyn M. Hughes
Abel Gitimu Waithaka*

Youngstown State University

Keywords: Relationships, Sibling, Attachment, Rivalry, Conflict, Warmth, Depend, Anxiety

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine factors that influence adult sibling relationships from college students’ perspectives. Data were collected from 211 adult students, 153 female and 58 male participants. The participants completed two scales: ARQ-S scale with 47 items and the Adult Attachment (AA) Scale with 18 items. There was a significant difference in sibling relationships on high and low attachment and also on participant’s parental marital status, married or divorced parents.

Introduction

Some research has found that when children do not have good relationships with their parents, they have better relationships with their siblings (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). Sibling relationships are the most common and the longest types of relationships people have and they come in different forms (Mikkelson, Floyd & Pauley, 2011).

Sibling relationships, at any age, are a special bond that, not only giving siblings a lifelong friend, but they are there through the milestones in life and help to make the transitions through life (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). Relationship among siblings in adulthood is a different kind of relationship. At adulthood, siblings help and support each other through different milestones such as leaving home, finding a job out of college, getting married and having children (Conger & Little, 2010). They also help each other get through tough times like when they lose their parents or tragedy strikes in the family. Adulthood relationships among siblings are different than in adolescence due to the fact that adults have responsibilities and more important fully developed in all areas of life (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).

Theories of sibling relationships

Implicit theories have been powerful indicators of children’s and adults’ behaviors in a variety of domains; how individuals solve moral issues is affected by their implicit theories (Thompson & Halberstadt, 2008). These fixed theorists believe more strongly than malleable theorist that the appropriate response to an immoral act is to reprimand the transgressor, whereas incremental theorists believe more strongly in assurance and negotiation in response to the same immoral act (Thompson & Halberstdt, 2008).

McHale, Updegraff, and Whiteman (2012) looked at sibling relationships and influences in childhood and adolescence. The study looked at the sociological and social psychological approaches which focused on the significance of sibling structure variables; the sibling’s position in the family gives rise to social psychological processes, with lifelong implications for individual development and adjustments (McHale, Updegraff & Whiteman, 2012). Another perspective that was examined was the psychoanalytic and ethological groundings of a developmental perspective that placed sibling dynamics at the center of family life and personality development (McHale, Updegraff & Whiteman, 2012).

In regards to attachment, siblings feel comfortable in attached relationships and they want to be in contact with each other and feel content when they are together (Shriner, 1999). In adulthood, sibling relationships change as the individuals move through adulthood and most disagree with the relationship shift (Shriner, 1999). Shriner found that Bedford described an hourglass effect in sibling involvement, in which sibling closeness as well as interaction gradually decreases in early adulthood, are low in the middle adult years, and rise again in late adulthood and old age. This finding did disagree with the White and Riedmans’s (1992) findings that the frequency of contact decreased with age in early adulthood, stabilized during middle adulthood, and declined sharply in later adulthood.

Shriner (1999) believes that siblings provide different types of support for each other as they age and as losses increase with age, siblings rely on each other more and more for social support. Goetting (1986) cited in Shriner (1999) believes that the amount of help that siblings give each other during adulthood and old age is based in their childhood and adolescent relationships and once they leave home as young adults, the amount of help that they give one another is based on similarity of their roles and their feelings of affection.

Literature Review

Sibling relationships are one of the longest relationships in people’s lives (Mikkelson, Floyd & Pauley 2011). Sibling relationships change over an individual’s lifetime as there are no two sibling relationships that are identical (VanVolkom, Machiz * Reich, 2011). A prime time for change in sibling relationships occurs in late adolescents and early adulthood (Conger & Little 2010). Conger and Little (2010) found that the suggested period from 18 years to 25 years old is the time of self-exploration as individuals face three primary tasks that define what adulthood is: taking responsibility for oneself, making independent decisions, and entering the workforce. These tasks that come along with the transitions into adulthood also change as the individuals get older. Other commitments, like marriage and childbearing, are meaningful transitions that young adults face and they change the nature of the relationships (Conger & Little, 2010).

Senguttuvan, Whiteman, and Jensen (2014) demonstrated that sibling relationship qualities are significant predictors of a variety of adolescent outcomes, like delinquency, depressions, and peer competence, above and beyond parent-child quality. Different perspectives of social support suggest that relationships influence health through their effects on self-esteem and self-regulations and by providing resources necessary to handle stress (Senguttuvan, Whiteman & Jensen, 2014). Volkom, Machiz, and Reich (2011) stated that most sibling relationships are very healthy, but some result in violence, conflict, hostility, and verbal aggression.

A sibling relationship is a relationship that is “forced” hence different than other relationships like friendships; that is voluntary and has different dynamics (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). Mikkelson, Floyd and Pauley (2011) suggested that strong sibling ties indicate benefits in physical and mental health, fewer symptoms of depressions, support system and helps to reduce the feeling of loneliness.

Conger and Little (2010) found that home-leaving influences sibling relationships and they speculate that reactions to an older sibling’s leaving home would influence the relationship and the siblings may experience a sense of loss as the other moves into adult roles. Most individuals enter into adulthood when they are entering the workforce and are no longer in the college experience (Conger & Little, 2010). In early adulthood, some siblings may provide support and affection for each other as they move through the developmental transitions such as getting married, raising a family, developing a career, and in some cases, caring for aged parents ( Stocker, Lanthier & Furman, 1997).

In recent studies, positive sibling relationship qualities have been shown to serve as protective factors and buffer the influence of stressors such as family conflict, low parental support, poor peer relationships, and other ecological risks (Senguttuvan, Whiteman & Jensen, 2014). The same study noted that sibling relationships may serve as important risk factors for unhealthy coping behaviors, whereas positive sibling relationships may serve as protective factors and promote health (Senguttuvan, Whiteman & Jensen, 2014). When siblings do not have a good relationship with their parents, they tend to overcompensate by having a supportive relationship with one another but the type of support is different between men and women (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).

The knowledge of having a sibling affects a person in a positive way because in older adulthood, people typically rely on their siblings during times of need or stress (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). Conger and Little (2010) found that the age spacing between siblings may affect the timing of different transitions throughout our lifetime. Siblings that are close in age may experience transitions at about the same time, thus producing positive connections around shared life experiences, or continuing negative comparisons rooted in childhood rivalries is some siblings take alternate pathways to differentiate themselves from other siblings. Conger and Little (2010) also found that in certain research of adolescent and early childhood siblings, they demonstrate that younger and older siblings often hold different perceptions of equality and satisfactions on their relationships.

Myers (2011) noted reasons siblings identified for maintaining their sibling relationship and found that to some people, maintaining their sibling relationships is something that they did simply because of their blood ties; for others, it is viewed as an obligation. Van Volkom, Machiz, and Reich (2011) found that the importance of commitment in relationships between siblings is very significant in the emerging adulthood stages of life. Sibling relationships in adulthood are a source of commitment and social support and are usually used as a form of stability when they are in an unstable time in their life (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).

During emerging adulthood, ages 18 through 25, even though siblings do not spend as much time together, their relationship can become more equal, open, and warm (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). Stocker, Lanthier and Furman (1997) found that a sibling relationship in adulthood was characterized by three different dimensions: warmth, conflict, and rivalry and these three dimensions, which are also found in childhood, may be characteristics of sibling relationships throughout much of their life.

Siblings that share common or similar interests and experiences were found to be a common reason why adult sibling relationships are maintained (Myers, 2011). Myers’s (2011) found that siblings who chose to maintain their relationships due to choice may do so because they consider their relationships to be similar to their peer relationships which bring enjoyment and relational closeness. It is not uncommon to find that adult siblings call each other close friends or best friends because later in life, and as they grow older, they find that their sibling relationships is increasingly more important (Myers, 2011).

Fortuna, Holland, and Roisman (2011) noted attachment theory to describe the development of secure attachment as a salient developmental task that has implications for individual functioning and social competence. The same study found that attachment to parents has been shown to play a role in sibling relationship during the early years (Fortuna, Holland & Roisman, 2011). Along with the attachment theory playing a role in how sibling relationships work, other studies have found that favoritism from parents has an effect on the relationship as well.

Rivalry among siblings has also been studied for decades; studies have found that there is a “love and hate” pattern that frequently occurs in the sibling relationships (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). Van Volkim, Machiz, and Reich (2011) found that sibling relationships do not often contain elements of conflict and rivalry, but that sibling conflict is related to a host of negative outcomes, including anxiety, depression, and various behavioral problems.

Method

Participants and Design

Data in this study were collected from a total of 211 college students from different major of study. Convenient stratified sample was used as participants were the individuals that were selected from specified classrooms. Both quantitative and survey designs was used in this study.

Research Questions

RQ1- Is there a difference in adult sibling relationship with high and low attachment?

RQ2- Is there a difference in adult sibling attachment from married and divorced parents?

Materials

ASRQ-Scale

ASRQ-Scale, had 47 items that measured the relationship between the participant and their sibling or their parents. Warmth and conflict scored range from 1-5 and Rivalry scores range from 0-2; higher scores indicate higher levels of the factor.

Adult Attachment Scale, AAS

The AAS (Adult Attachment Scale, AAS) Scale consisted of an 18- item instrument that helped to measure how the participants generally feel in important close relationships in their lives. Collins & Read (1990) reported Cronbach’s alpha coefficients of .69 for Close, .75 for Demand, and .72 for Anxiety.

Procedure

The collection of the data for this study was a convenient stratified sample. The sample was convenient as participants were requested to respond during usual class time and stratified as the investigator identified various classes in the colleges to respond to during usual class time. The investigator contacted the professors of her choice by e-mail, asking for permission to pass out surveys during their class time. When the e-mail was sent there was a copy of the survey that was attached so they were able to see what the survey was about before they were passed out in their classes. The surveys were then taken to the instructor’s classrooms who agreed for data collections. Once in the classrooms, the consent letters and the surveys were passed out to the class and they were given the 10-15 minutes to complete the survey and give it to the investigator.

Results

RQ1- Is there a difference in adult sibling relationship with high and low attachment?

Table 3

N

Mean

df

Mean Square

F

Sig.

WARMTH

Low Attachment

108

2.97

1

29.655

38.954

.000

High Attachment

103

3.72

209

.761

Total

211

3.34

210

CONFLICT

Low Attachment

108

1.85

1

12.197

25.825

.000

High Attachment

103

2.33

209

.472

Total

211

2.08

210

RIVALRY

Low Attachment

108

3.00

1

.827

2.295

.131

High Attachment

103

3.12

209

.360

Total

211

3.05

210

We computed a one-way ANOVA comparing Warmth, Conflict, and Rivalry as dependent variables against High and Low Attachment as a factor. A significant difference was found among Warmth (F(1,209)= 38.95, p< .05) and Conflict (F(1,209)= 25.83). Tukey’s HSD was used to determine the nature of the difference between Warmth, Conflict, and Rivalry. Rivalry scored (m=3.00, sd= .60) was not significantly different.

RQ2- Is there a difference in adult sibling attachment from married and divorced parents?

Table 4

N

Mean

df

Mean Square

F

Sig.

AASCLOSE

Divorce

84

18.94

1

195.228

12.525

.000

Married

127

20.91

209

15.586

Total

211

20.12

210

AASDEPEND

Divorce

84

17.33

1

152.639

9.035

.003

Married

127

19.07

209

16.895

Total

211

18.38

210

AASANXIETY

Divorce

84

14.73

1

2.864

.100

.752

Married

127

14.49

209

28.586

Total

211

14.58

210

We computed a one-way ANOVA comparing Close, Depend, and Anxiety as dependent variables against parental marital status as a factor. A significant difference was found among the Close (F(1,209)=12.525 p<.05) and Depend (F(1,209)= p<.05). Tukey’s HSD was used to determine the nature of the difference between Close, Depend, and Anxiety. Anxiety scored (m=14.58, sd=5.34) was not significantly different from either Close or Depend.

Discussion

One-Way ANOVA showed that there is a statistical difference in adult sibling relationship with high and low attachment on warmth with a mean of 2.97 on low attachment and a mean of 3.72 in high attachment with a significant difference p<.05. The study by Whiteman, McHale and Soli (2011) found that from an attachment perspective, attachment is not equivalent to relationship positivity but implies a deeper bond that varies in the extent to which a relationship partner serves as a source of emotional security. There was also a significant difference between attachment and conflict with a low attachment having a mean of 1.85 and high attachment with a mean of 2.33 with a significant ant difference of p< .05. McHale, Updegraff and Whiteman (2012) found findings that were consistent with a spillover process, like hostility and conflict in the martial systems and negativity in the parent that show that sibling relationships are linked to sibling conflict and violence.

The study showed that there is a relation between adult sibling attachment and the participant’s parental marital status when it comes to closeness and depending on one another. For individuals with divorced parents they had a closeness mean of 18.94 and the ones with married parents had a mean of 20.91, both showing a significant difference of p<.05. According to finding from Mikkelson, Floyd, and Pauley (2011), they found that because there is a strong relationship between support and closeness, it is possible that genetic relatedness is one of the several variables influencing closeness. For the participants with parents who are married they had a depend mean of 19.07 and the ones with divorced parents had a depend mean of 17.33, showing a significant difference of p<.05. Fortuna, Rosiman, Haydon, Groh and Holland (2011) found that siblings with parents that are married are more likely to depend on each other than ones that have divorced parents due to the attachment theory.

The study showed that there is also significance when it comes to adult attachment and the need to belong. The individuals that have a low need to belong due to anxiety had a mean of 12.92 and the individuals with a high need to belong due to anxiety showed a mean of 16.23 and a significant difference of p< .05. McHale, Upedgraff and Whiteman (2012) have found in previous research that siblings expose each other to different settings and peer groups where different acts are acceptable, showing the pattern of “following the crowd” in order to fit in.

When looking at warmth and adult sibling relationships, there were differences between those who had married parents versus divorced parents. The participants that had divorced parents had a mean of 3.06 and the participants with married parents had a higher mean for warmth of 3.52 with the significant difference of p<.05. There has been other research conducted that found that warmth has been associated with second born children and not first born children and that does effect the relationships between the siblings (Lam, Solmeyer & McHale, 2012).

Limitations

One of the limitations of the study is that it used a convenient sample from one institution instead of a random sample. The sample of the study had more female than male participants, which does not give accurate findings for adult sibling relationships on both genders.

Another limitation is that the samples of participants were part of a small community at one institution. Using a larger community and more than one institution would give a wider range of participants that are part of different institutions and colleges.

Conclusion and Future Research

There is a continuing need for research that is focused on larger populations and using larger communities that will become more apparent in the future. There will also be a need for researching the population and equal gender representation. This research should be expounded by Universities across the country to take into account different regional and economic statuses. This research may benefit Human Ecology professionals, psychologists, teachers, parents, families, and other researchers dealing with adult sibling relationships.

The study showed a significant difference on adult sibling relationships from the perspective of a college student. Sibling relationships are important at any age but adult sibling relationships have many outside factors that influence their strength and importance. Sibling relationships are one of the only relationships that we are not able to choose, but to some people, having a sibling is like having a lifelong best friend.

References

Conger, K.J., & Little, W.M., (2010). Sibling relationships during the transition to adulthood. Journal Compilation, 4(2), 87-94.

Fortuna, K., Roisman, G. I., Haydon, K.C., Groh, A.M., & Holland, A.S., (2011). Attachment state of mind and the quality of young adults’ sibling relationships. Developmental Psychology. Advanced online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024393.

Goetting, A. (1986). The development tasks of siblingship over the life cycle. Journal of Marriage and Family, 48, 703-714.

Lam, C. B., Solmeyer, A. R., & McHale, S. M. (2012). Sibling relationships and empathy across

the transition to adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 1657-1670. doi: 10.1007/s10964-012-9781-8. PMCID: PMC3493674

McHale, S. H., Updegraff, K. A., & Whiteman, S. D., (2012). Sibling relationships and influences in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Marriage and Family, doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.01011.x

Mikkelson, A.C., Floyd, K., & Pauley, P.M., (2011). Different solicitude of social support in different types of adult sibling relationships. Journal of Family Communication, 11, 220- 236.

Mikkelson, A.C., Myers, S.A., & Hannawa, A.F., (2011). The differential use of relational maintenance behaviors in adult sibling relationships. Communication Studies, 62(3), 258-271.

Myers, S.A. (2011). I have to love her, even if sometimes I may not like her: The reasons why adults maintain their sibling relationships. North American Journal of Psychology, 13(1), 51-62.

Senguttuvan, U., Whiteman, S. D., & Jensen, A. C. (2014). Family relationships and adolescents’

health attitudes and weight: The understudied role of sibling relationships. Family Relations, 63, 384-396. doi:10.1111/fare.12073

Shriner, J. A. (1999). Adult sibling relationships. Extension agent family and consumer sciences: Ohio State University Fact Sheet. FLM-FS-6-99

Stocker, C.M., Lanthier, R.P., & Furman, W. (1997). Sibling relationships in early adulthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 11(2), 210-221.

Thompason, J.A., & Halberstadt, A. G., (2008). Children’s accounts of sibling jealousy and their implicit theories about relationships. Doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00435.x

Van Volkom, M., Machiz, C., & Reich, A.E. (2011). Sibling relationships in the college years: Do gender, birth order, and age spacing matter? North American Journal of Psychology 13(1), 35-50.

White, L. K., & Reidman, A. (1992). Ties among adult siblings. Social Forces. 71:85- 102.10.2307/2579967

Whiteman, S. D., McHale, S. M., & Soli, A. (2011). Theoretical Perspectives on Sibling Relationships. National Institute of Health Public Access. 3(2): 124-139. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-2589.2011.00087.


URC RESOURCES:

©2002-2016 All rights reserved by the Undergraduate Research Community.

Research Journal: Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Vol. 3 Vol. 4 Vol. 5 Vol. 6 Vol. 7 Vol. 8 Vol. 9 Vol. 10 Vol. 11 Vol. 12 Vol. 13 Vol. 14 Vol. 15
High School Edition

Call for Papers ¦ URC Home ¦ Kappa Omicron Nu

KONbuttonspaceK O NspaceKONbutton