Advantages and Disadvantages of Having Siblings

Young siblings pressing foreheads together and smiling.
Young siblings pressing foreheads together and smiling. (Image: Todd Wright/Blend Images/Getty Images)

For people from larger families, the advantages and disadvantages of having siblings might be obvious. But there are advantages beyond always having someone to play with, and disadvantages more serious than having to share toys. Having siblings has upsides and downfalls that depend on many factors, from birth order to the innate abilities of brothers and sisters.

More Family Interaction

Adults with brothers and sisters get out a little more, or at least spend more time with their extended families. Adults without siblings have fewer social activities with their relatives, according to 2012 research in the Journal of Family Issues. These activities may include dinners at family member’s homes, or a night out with family members. This is especially true of those who did not live with both parents during childhood. However, this research suggests that while only children may have fewer opportunities for socializing with family, these differences may become less pronounced as people age.

Younger Siblings and Mental Health

Having an older sibling may promote good mental health in younger brothers and sisters both in the short and long term, according to 2012 research published in Social Science and Medicine. Mental health markers include lower rates of depression, less anxiety and more life satisfaction. However, there is a catch; having younger siblings may trigger poorer mental health in older siblings, though more research is needed to determine specific causes. The study's researchers noted that while children from larger families may experience parental time constraints and economic difficulties, these families have important mental health benefits, at least for subsequent children.

Learning Opportunities

Having siblings promotes learning, notes research published in the Journal of Cognition and Development. According to this study, playtime led to children sharing both procedural knowledge, such as how to build a tower, and conceptual knowledge, such as how to distinguish between shapes or the days of the week. While younger children may learn more from older siblings, these teaching opportunities go both ways as children grow.

Economic Strain and Potential for Delinquency

The more children in a family, the farther resources have to stretch. And economic strain, along with inconsistent parenting, may lead to increases in juvenile delinquency in younger siblings, reports a 2012 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology. These effects are especially pronounced in siblings who have older brothers and sisters engaged in delinquent behaviors such as stealing or lying. And the more financial problems, the worse the behavior tends to be. This suggests that families may struggle more with younger siblings when older siblings are engaged in problem behaviors, particularly if finances are already tight.

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