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More children in today's United States live with at least one sibling than with a father figure (not necessarily a biological father) — 82.22 percent vs 78.19 percent. Those siblings play a crucial role in our lives. As kids, they teach us how to share, how to fight, and how to negotiate. We may well spend more active time with our siblings than with our parents or anyone else during the early childhood years, and our siblings are likely to continue to play a physical role in our lives for longer than our parents. When parents pass on, our siblings are still there.
Given the huge role our brothers and sisters play in our lives, remarkably little research has been done into the emotional and health impact of sibling relationships. In recent years, however, interest in this topic has been on the increase.
How Do Siblings Influence Our Health?
The tween and teen years tend to be some of the most turbulent in our lives — rather than feeling all brotherly and sisterly, people in this age range may well spend a lot of their time arguing with their siblings! Research from Brigham Young University nonetheless shows that siblings boost the mental health of 10 to 14 year old kids. The study found that an positive sibling relationship made kids more likely to engage in good deeds, such as helping neighbors, and that having a loving sibling of either gender actually played a larger role in this behavior than parental influence! Even more interestingly, though, the study revealed that kids in this age range who had a sister — age didn't matter — were less lonely and fearful, and had higher levels of self-confidence.
Another study of 2,000 people and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that having an obese older sibling, especially of the same gender, doubles your own odds of being obese. Though the same link exists between parental obesity and their own weight in only children and firstborns, parental obesity stops being a big predictive factor for children with older siblings.
Whether or not you actually look up to your older sibling, they have an awfully big impact on your own life and health, in other words. Though this particular study only looked into obesity, it isn't far-fetched to conclude that the same principle could also apply to such things as exercise and smoking.
In addition, siblings were found to lose their virginity at similar ages, and to be alike in levels of risky sexual behavior. Whether directly or indirectly, brothers and sisters can contribute to long-term health outcomes more heavily than we'd think.