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Sibling Relationships


The focus on cross-cultural sibling relationships centered primarily on the Far East, where scholars have concentrated attention on structural and cultural factors (i.e., birth-order, gender effects, inheritance, and socialized interdependencies). From an observation of the shifts in family size and structure, one might conclude that the values of individualism and utilitarianism that characterize family relationships in Western societies will erode the traditional values that are at the basis of non-Western societies (e.g., a preference for many children and for sons, an emphasis on interdependence and community). Testing this supposition, Cigdem Kagitcibasi (1996) examined several cross-cultural studies and concluded that in spite of global changes in social structure and economic changes, the collectivistic cultures that emphasize interdependence among family members continues, at least in the Far East (i.e., Japan, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong). He did observe in both Western and non-Western societies that a change in family relationships is occurring in the patterns of interdependence: material or instrumental support is decreasing whereas emotional interdependence in increasing. Other scholars find that the traditional values of the importance of children and family obligations remain intact in the Far East in various degrees (Cho and Shin 1996; Shen 1996). Whether the patterns of interdependence and obligation among siblings will change or remain stable remains to be seen.

Focus on one Western nation, the United States, found that social science investigators have tended to examine sibling relationships at the interactional level, focusing on different stages of the life cycle. Growing up with their siblings, stepsiblings, and half-siblings, children act (either positively or negatively) as socializing agents, caretakers, playmates, teachers and role models. Across the life span, the majority of individuals report feeling close to their siblings, yet only a minority depend on these kin for intimate companionship or for financial, emotional, or physical assistance when they are adults. However, certain life experiences (e.g., never marrying, having no children, becoming widowed, or experiencing divorce) can produce closer contact and greater feelings of closeness among siblings. For the majority of people, interactions with siblings are positive and lead to the development of an affectionate life-long bond.

One could characterize sibling relationships in the United States as reflecting a culture of individualism that creates both intragenerational and interpersonal independence. This individualism and independence has, in most cases, resulted in affection, concern, and interest in brothers and sisters but with no accompanying obligation or responsibility for frequent contact or mutual aid (Rossi and Rossi 1990).


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Other Resource

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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelatives & Extended FamilySibling Relationships - Sibling Similarities And Differences, Siblings In Non-western Cultures, Sibling Relationships Across The Life Span