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DOUGLAS B. DOWNEY AND DENNIS J.

CONDRON Ohio State University

Playing Well with Others in Kindergarten: The Benefit of Siblings at Home

There are many reasons to expect that children gain something by growing up with siblings, yet there is surprisingly scant evidence of this advantage. Indeed, the vast majority of research assessing the consequences of siblings reports negative effects: Children with many siblings do not perform as well in school as children with few siblings. By focusing almost exclusively on educational outcomes, however, previous studies have neglected ways in which children might benefit from siblings. One possibility, for example, is that siblings promote childrens social and interpersonal skills. In this study, we analyze a sample of kindergartners (N 20,649) from The Early Childhood Longitudinal StudyKindergarten Class of 199899 to replicate the often-noted negative relationship between number of siblings and cognitive outcomes, and then demonstrate that this pattern does not extend to social skills. Findings are consistent with the view that children negotiate peer relationships better when they grow up with at least one sibling.

few siblings. Although the consequences of this demographic change are not yet fully understood, available research suggests that most children are probably better off because additional siblings tend to dilute parental resources such as time, energy, and money (Blake, 1989; Downey, 1995). On balance, the current evidence suggests surprisingly few advantages to additional siblings, especially having several siblings. The majority of scholarship in this area, however, has focused on the relationship between sibship size and educational outcomes and has devoted less attention to the possibility that having siblings promotes social and interpersonal skills. In this study, we extend our understanding of how sibship size matters by documenting its relationship with social and interpersonal skills in a nationally representative sample of kindergartners.

SIBLINGS AND SOCIAL SKILLS: TWO PERSPECTIVES Resource Dilution

The growth in the divorce rate in the 1970s and the more recent increase in cohabitation have dominated demographers attention. But households have changed in another way, too. The steady decline in fertility means that an increasing percentage of children are growing up with
Department of Sociology, 300 Bricker Hall, 190 N. Oval Mall, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210 (downey.32@sociology.osu.edu). Key Words: children, siblings, social skills.

Most social science discourse on the effect of siblings is shaped in some form by the simple ideas espoused in the resource dilution model. Beginning with the assumption that parental resources are finite, the model posits that as the number of children in the household increases, the proportion of parental resources accrued by any one child decreases (Blake, 1989; Downey, 2001). Blake (1981a), a leading proponent of the resource dilution perspective, outlined three types of finite parental resources: (a) types of homes, necessities 333

Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (May 2004): 333350

334 of life, cultural objects (like books, pictures, music, and so forth), (b) personal attention, intervention, and teaching, and (c) specific chances to engage the outside world (p. 422). Blake suggested that [t]he more children, the more these resources are divided (even taking account of economies of scale) and hence, the lower the quality of the output (p. 422). Dilution proponents suggest that, on average, children do not benefit from having siblings because siblings dilute rather than provide resources. As evidence for this position, they point to the many studies reporting an inverse relationship between siblings and a wide range of educational outcomes such as years of education attained and math and verbal test scores (Blake, 1981a, 1989; Downey, 1995; Zajonc & Markus, 1975). In nearly every case, it appears that children do better in school and on cognitive tests when they have fewer versus many siblings. The evidence that siblings reduce educational achievement is not completely without exceptions, however. Only children sometimes perform worse than children with one or two siblings, providing at least a hint that children may enjoy educational benefits from having small numbers of siblings. Zajonc and Markus (1975) argued that this benefit is real, explaining that only children (and lastborns) are disadvantaged by lacking a younger sibling to teach. Blake (1989), however, argued that these apparent benefits are spurious. Blake suggested that only children in some samples do not perform as well as those with one sibling because only children have more often experienced family disruption and because they have defects (intellectual or otherwise) that led parents to discontinue reproduction (p. 141). Her empirical work showed that the only-child exception was typically reduced or eliminated when she statistically controlled for family structure and indicators of the childs disability status. Although developed with the goal of explaining disparities in educational outcomes, the dilution perspective also has implications for understanding how siblings might influence childrens social and interpersonal skills. Dilution theorists put primary emphasis on how siblings affect available parental resources, and are skeptical that siblings serve as resources. Blake (1989), for instance, stated that the notion that older siblings typically, and on average, function in loco parentis assumes too much about sibling goodwill and maturity (p. 12). Along these lines, Perez-Granados and Callanan (1997) found that older siblings were

Journal of Marriage and Family less successful at teaching their younger siblings information than were the childrens mothers. Taken as a whole, resource dilution theory views siblings primarily as competitors for parental resources and as poor providers of resources themselves. From this perspective, childrens social skills should also decline as sibship size increases. Of course, dilution theory arguments are most appealing when the focus is on finite parental resources that are not easily shared by siblings. For example, Downey (1995) found that siblings have a stronger effect on money saved for college than on the frequency with which parents speak with their children. Money saved for college represents a finite resource that, once used, cannot be enjoyed by other siblings. In contrast, the frequency with which parents speak with their children is a resource that parents could more readily expand as sibship size grows, and could potentially be shared among siblings (e.g., parents interact with all of their progeny at the same time). For our purposes, the resources parents provide that promote childrens social skills are unlikely to be as strictly finite as money saved for college. Consequently, if the dilution model correctly predicts a negative association between sibship size and social skills, we would expect a more modest relationship than that observed between sibship size and money saved for college. Siblings as Resources An alternative position is that siblings are not just competitors for parental resources, but that children actually gain interpersonal skills from the presence of brothers and sisters. The argument here is that through repeated interactions with siblings, children are forced to develop interpersonal skills that can then be generalized to peer relationships (MacKinnon, Starnes, Volling, & Johnson, 1997; McCoy, Brody, & Stoneman, 1994). Brody (1998) described how siblings provide opportunities for play that encourage the understanding of roles:
In learning and practicing a role, a child learns not only his or her own role, but also the complimentary ones. Naturalistic observations of sibling interactions indicate that siblings enact asymmetrical, complimentary roles with one another. Older siblings act as teachers, managers, and helpers when playing with their younger brothers and sisters, and the younger siblings assume the corresponding learner, managee, and helpee roles (p. 16).

Sibship Size and Social Skills Siblings do not always get along, of course, but conflict at home can be training for negotiating relationships in other contexts by allowing children to hone communication skills and convey feelings or emotions (Brody, 1998). Along these same lines, Polit and Falbo (1987) described the disadvantages of not having at least one sibling in this way: Only children fail to learn critical developmental lessons by not being raised with siblings, and consequently would be expected to fare worse than non-onlies in terms of such outcomes as personal adjustment, cooperativeness, and ability to get along with peers (p. 319). In direct contrast to the resource dilution prediction, the siblings as resources position suggests that, all else being equal, children are most likely to develop social skills in the largest families. As sibship size grows, the opportunity for greater sibling interaction increases; thus, additional siblings should be associated with improved social skills. A modification of this position is that children gain social skills from sibling interactions, but this benefit is fulfilled by reaching a particular threshold of siblings. Even one sibling may provide all of the necessary sibling interaction needed to develop social skills. If so, additional siblings after one may increase the number of sibling interactions but not necessarily promote social skills because the threshold for necessary sibling interaction has been met with a single sibling. This view is popular among the public (Blake, 1981b) and has motivated many researchers to focus their attention on distinctions between children with zero versus one sibling(s). Another possibility is that children benefit the most from parent-supervised sibling interactions. Because the amount of time parents spend with their children declines as sibship size increases (Downey, 1995; Hill & Stafford, 1974), there is reason to expect that the proportion of sibling interactions that go unsupervised increases as sibship size grows. If children gain the most from sibling interactions when they are refereed by a parent, then a sibship of two or three children would be the size most conducive to the development of social skills. From this perspective, unsupervised sibling interactions too often degenerate into spats that result in little development of social skills. As an example, lacking parental supervision, sibling disputes may be won by the older sibling through brute force, with neither sibling developing effective social skills from the interaction.

335 Parents intervention can be useful for children to learn basic principles for resolving disputes (e.g., Use your words instead of hitting) and for imagining how their behavior affects others (e.g., Why do you think your brother is upset right now?). To the extent that parents prompt their children to take the role of the other during sibling interactions, children may be able to generalize these social skills to other contexts through interactions with peers. It is not so much the quantity of sibling interaction that matters, the argument goes, but quality interaction as indicated by parent supervision. Based on the assumption that supervised sibling interactions occur more frequently in small sibships, this perspective predicts that the benefit of siblings would be evident when comparing those with small numbers of siblings (e.g., one or two siblings) to those with no siblings, but would wane as sibship size increases and the proportion of unsupervised sibling interactions grows. THE CURRENT EVIDENCE There has been remarkably little research on the relationship between sibship size and social skills, but existing evidence suggests little social skills benefit from having even one sister or brother (Blake, 1981b, 1989; Polit & Falbo, 1987). Polit and Falbo have provided the most extensive review of literature studying the personality characteristics of only children. Their meta-analysis examined 141 studies of only childrens personality characteristics and reported no relationship between number of siblings and peer popularity (measured as the sociometric choices of classmates) among 21 studies addressing this issue. This seemingly convincing evidence is actually quite modest, however, given that the studies included in their meta-analysis were, by the authors own standards, of below average quality in terms of sample size, probability sampling, multivariate methods, and the use of reliable measurement scales. Other more recent studies using small samples have found more mixed evidence. On one hand, Kitzmann, Cohen, and Lockwood (2002) studied 139 children of elementary school age and found that, whereas only children had similar numbers of friends as children with one or two siblings, they were less liked by their classmates. The authors concluded that having a sibling may be especially helpful for learning to manage

336 conflict (p. 299). On the other hand, Riggio (1999) found no difference in social and emotional sensitivity, expressivity, and control between 146 adults with and 51 adults without siblings. There is some evidence that siblings help buffer stressful events. Kempton, Armistead, Wierson, and Forehand (1991) found that teachers ratings of children who had experienced a divorce were more positive for those with a sibling than for children lacking a sibling. One reason for the discrepancy among these studies may be that they rely on small samples of questionable generalizability. Few studies have assessed the relationship between siblings and social skills with nationally representative data, but one exception is Blake, Richardson, and Bhattacharyas (1991) study of adults from the 1957 Study of American Family Growth and the 1976 survey Americans View Their Mental Health. Noting that the review by Polit and Falbo (1987) suggested that children do not appear more sociable as sibship size increases, Blake et al. (1991) found a similar pattern in their study of adults and concluded that the combination of these two sets of findings suggests that there may be no effect of sibling number on sociability at any age (p. 280). The main concern with this work, however, is that Blake et al.s indicators were of sociability, not social skills. These indicators involved self-reported responses to questions that primarily addressed how important friendships are and how important it is to work with a nice group. Although these may capture one dimension of sociability, we are more interested in whether individuals are skilled in their dealings with others and less interested in whether they report valuing friends and nice groups. Individuals could, for example, report that friendships are important to them but have only modest skills in actually maintaining good friendships. Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that additional siblings affect family life is found in Baydar, Hyle, and Brooks-Gunns (1997) study of children in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The authors compared children who gained a sibling to those who did not over a 4-year period on a wide range of outcomes. They noted that, among families experiencing an additional birth, the mother frequently adopted a controlling parenting style, and the childs verbal development appeared to suffer. Of note for our concerns, however, the authors also reported some evidence that childrens social skills were

Journal of Marriage and Family affected by the new sibling. Consistent with other studies noting the difficulty of adjusting to a new sibling (Dunn & Munn, 1985), Baydar et al. (1997) reported that in the first 2 years after the birth of a sibling, the older child exhibits greater difficulty relating to peers, as evaluated by the parent. But after this initial adjustment period, the authors found evidence of improving peer relations consistent with Stewarts (1990) claim that the process of adjusting to a new sibling may provide an important developmental experience. EXTENDING PAST WORK Taken as a whole, there is little evidence that children develop greater social and interpersonal skills as their sibship size increases. There are important reasons for exploring this issue further, however. One hurdle is developing a convincing measure of social skills. Self-reports may be particularly misleading if unskilled individuals are unaware of their deficits. Parents evaluations are of some value because they have spent so much time with their children, but these likely gauge childrens interactions with siblings more so than with peers. If we are interested in whether siblings help children learn social skills that have currency in contexts other than the home, thirdparty evaluations are most useful. In this regard, Polit and Falbos (1987) meta-analysis is noteworthy because the studies they evaluated employed sociometric measures of popularity based on peer reports, a compelling measure of social skills. Along these same lines, our indicators of childrens social skills come from a third party (teachers) in a context separate from the home (the classroom). Our data also have information from parents regarding their childrens social skills. Parent and teacher reports of social skills correlate in the expected direction, but they are not always in accord, a point we return to in the discussion. We add to what is currently known about sibship size and social skills in three ways. First, the potential benefit of siblings for social skills may not have been observed in past studies because they were typically based on small, nongeneralizable samples (e.g., one classroom), and the pattern reported by Polit and Falbo (1987) is not consistently replicated (e.g., Kitzmann et al., 2002). Our analyses of generalizable data that employ third-party evaluations of childrens social skills may help to resolve these discrepancies.

Sibship Size and Social Skills Second, past research has not given due consideration to the possibility that any relationship between sibship size and social skills may be spurious. Parents who have many children are probably different from parents who have few children, a possibility that has led researchers to suspect that the negative association between sibship size and cognitive skills may be spurious (Downey, 2001; Downey, Powell, Steelman, & Pribesh, 1999; Ernst & Angst, 1983; Guo & Van Wey, 1999; Rodgers, 2001). This issue of selectivity also clouds our attempt to discern whether siblings have a causal effect on social skills. If selectivity works the way that past researchers have suggested, we would expect children with many siblings to show poorer social skills than children with few siblings because parents who have many children are disadvantaged relative to those who have few children. Our study does not resolve whether sibship size has real consequences for children, but we contribute to our understanding of how selectivity matters by assessing whether the covariates that explain much (sometimes all) of the sibship size and educational outcome relationship can do the same for social skills. The covariates we use in our study represent well-known differences between the kinds of parents who have few versus many children, and they are important mediators of the link between sibship size and educational outcomes. One argument is that, because of marital discord and eventual termination, or the fact that the parents never married, children with no siblings more frequently come from single-parent households than do children with any siblings. Accordingly, we controlled for family structure in our models. In addition, some scholars have suggested that parents may stop having additional children after their first exhibits developmental problems (Blake, 1989). To account for this possibility, we controlled for parental reports of whether the child has a disability, the parents evaluation of the childs health, and the childs birth weight. We also held constant whether the child is currently enrolled in an afterschool program, given that children with fewer siblings may more often enroll in these and potentially accrue social skills benefits from this experience. But the more traditional argument is that parents who produce many children are socioeconomically disadvantaged relative to those who have few children (Ernst & Angst, 1983; Guo & Van Wey, 1999). To address this concern,

337 we included a control for socioeconomic status based on parents education, family income, and occupations. We controlled for parents age because older parents generally have more resources and may be more skilled in developing their childrens social skills. Finally, we controlled for racial/ethnic group status. In supplemental models (not shown), we also controlled for indicators of religiosity and marital quality. These additional controls did not change the overall pattern of results presented here. Although there are likely still unmeasured differences (not included in our models) between parents with many versus few children, associations between sibship size and social skills independent of the wide range of covariates we employ would constitute credible evidence that sibship size influences childrens development of social skills. Finally, we see value in extending the study of sibship size to include several of its theoretically meaningful components. In other words, although it is important to know whether adding another child to the family shapes the development of childrens social skills, we can also ask whether particular kinds of siblings promote social skills more than others. Some evidence suggests that the influence of brothers (in brother pairs) on delinquency is comparable to the influence of sisters (in sister pairs; Slomkowski, Rende, Conger, Simons, & Conger, 2001), but it is not clear whether the general effect of brothers and sisters (on both boys and girls) is similar. Studies considering the general effect of brothers versus sisters have typically reported that brothers are more damaging to school performance than are sisters (Powell & Steelman, 1990), and that brothers dilute parental resources for college more so than do sisters (Steelman & Powell, 1989). Studies have also suggested that girls are rated as better classroom citizens than boys (Farkas, Grobe, Sheehan, & Shuan, 1990); we thus anticipate that childrens social skills will improve more from exposure to sisters than to brothers. We also consider birth order positioning and spacing. On one hand, past studies have suggested that younger children benefit from having older siblings (Brody & Murry, 2001), perhaps as a result of exposure to the older siblings social competencies. But older children may also develop social skills through enacting the teacher and helper role, an argument that Zajonc and Markus (1975) made with respect to cognitive skills. By taking the role of the other in interactions with a younger sibling, older children

338 may gain the ability to understand the perspective of the other (Brody, 1998). Closely spaced siblings appear to be a greater liability than widely spaced ones when predicting educational outcomes (Powell & Steelman, 1993)perhaps because they are more potent diluters of parental resourcesbut they should provide more frequent interaction partners at home, suggesting a potentially different pattern when predicting social skills. Rather than developing an aggregate measure of sibling density, we follow Powell and Steelmans (1990) practice of distinguishing among siblings in terms of both their birth order positions and the number of years from the target child. In addition, sibling relationships may vary as a result of genetic relatedness. Half siblings share one fewer biological parent than full siblings, and thus may spend less time with each other as a result of time spent with parents not residing in the household. Because stepsiblings typically must overcome an initial adjustment period that is often stressful for children (Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998), we expect children to benefit less from exposure to stepsiblings than full siblings. Although few researchers have explored these issues in depth, one exception suggests more conflict and aggression between full siblings than half or stepsiblings (DeaterDeckard & Dunn, 2002), perhaps representing more engagement overall among full siblings. Whether this greater conflict and aggression among full sibling versus other sibling pairs results in better or worse social skills in other contexts merits further attention. RESEARCH QUESTIONS In the study reported here, we addressed three main questions: (a) Do children with more siblings exhibit better social and interpersonal skills than children with fewer siblings? (b) Do associations between sibship size and social skills persist despite statistically controlling for a wide range of covariates? (c) Are particular kinds of siblings more important than others for the development of social skills? METHOD Data Most of what we know about the effect of siblings is from studies of high school students and

Journal of Marriage and Family adults, because some of our best data have focused on these groups. Recently, however, the National Center for Education Statistics collected a wide range of information from parents, teachers, and school officials for a nationally representative sample of 21,260 children attending kindergarten in the fall of 19981999 (The Early Childhood Longitudinal StudyKindergarten Class of 199899, or ECLS-K). The ECLS-K employed a multistage probability sampling design in which roughly 1,000 schools were sampled, and about 25 students within each school were selected. Our analyses were based on the 20,649 cases for which there was a valid school identifier (this excluded 611 cases). We used information collected from parents, teachers, and the children in the spring of 1999, near the end of the kindergarten year, when the childrens average age was 6 years and 2 months. Childrens cognitive skills were evaluated in untimed one-on-one assessments, parent information came from telephone surveys, and teachers filled out self-administered questionnaires. (For further information on the details of the study design and sample collection procedures, see U.S. Department of Education, 2000.) Our sample was 55% White, 15% Black, 18% Hispanic (includes both those designating a specific race and those not), 6% Asian, and 5% individuals who identified with a different race. Nearly 1 in 5 (17%) children in this young sample was an only child. The modal number of siblings was one (42%), 26% had two siblings, 10% had three siblings, and 5% had four or more siblings. Two thirds of the sample lived in a household with both biological parents. Dependent Variables To measure childrens social and interpersonal skills, we made use of several reliable scales constructed by ECLS-K. (Unfortunately, ECLS-K does not allow us, even with the restricted-use data, to predict each individual item in these scales.) See Table 1 for names, means, standard deviations (when appropriate), and reliability scores (when appropriate) for all variables used in this study. Interpersonal skills. Teachers were asked to assess childrens ability to (a) form and maintain friendships, (b) get along with people who are different, (c) comfort or help other children, (d) express feelings, ideas, and opinions in a positive way, and

Sibship Size and Social Skills


TABLE 1 MEANS, STANDARD DEVIATIONS, AND ALPHAS FOR VARIABLES USED IN THE ANALYSES: EARLY CHILDHOOD LONGITUDINAL STUDY, KINDERGARTEN CLASS OF 199899 (N 20,649) Variable Name Dependent Variables Interpersonal skills Externalizing problem behaviors Self control Reading skills Math skills Sibship Measures No siblings One sibling Two siblings Three siblings Four or more siblings Number of brothers Number of sisters Siblings ! 3 years older Siblings 12 years older Siblings within 1 year Siblings 12 years younger Siblings ! 3 years younger Full siblings Stepsiblings Half siblings Adopted and foster siblings M SD

339 Self-control. Teachers rated the ability of the children to (a) control behavior by respecting the property rights of others, (b) control temper, (c) accept peer ideas for group activities, and (d) respond appropriately to pressure from peers. This measure also ranges from 1 (never to all items) to 4 (very often to all items), and has a reliability of a .80. Externalizing problem behaviors. Teachers rated the frequency with which the child (a) argues, (b) fights, (c) gets angry, (d) acts impulsively, and (e) disturbs ongoing activities. Again, the range is 1 (never to all items) to 4 (very often to all items), and the reliability is high (a .90). Reading skills. The reading assessment tested five levels of proficiency: (a) identifying upperand lowercase letters of the alphabet by name, (b) identifying letters with sounds at the beginning of words, (c) identifying letters with sounds at the end of words, (d) recognizing common words by sight, and (e) reading words in context. The reading Item Response Theory (IRT) scale in our sample ranges from 10 to 70 and has a reliability of a .93. Math skills. The math assessment gauged childrens ability to (a) identify numbers, (b) count, (c) recognize numbers in a sequence, and (d) perform simple addition and subtraction. The math IRT scale scores range from 6 to 60, with a reliability of a .92. Independent Variables Sibship size. We gathered information regarding siblings from two sources. First, parents were asked how many full, half, adopted, foster, and stepsiblings the target child has in the household. We based our dichotomous sibship size measures on parents responses to this question (e.g., zero siblings, one sibling, two siblings, three siblings, four or more siblings). Second, parents were asked for more detailed descriptions of all household members, including information on siblings. We based our more detailed measures of the sibship (e.g., number of brothers and sisters, birth order, age spacing, and so forth) on these questions. In about 99% of the sample, information on siblings from these two sources was in agreement. Of the cases in which the two sources of information did not agree, the magnitude of the discrepancy was typically one sibling, and

3.10 .64 .89 1.68 .64 .90 3.16 .63 .80 30.38 14.49 .95 26.99 9.46 .94

.17 .42 .27 .09 .05 .76 .73 .49 .28 .16 .16 .46 1.28 .03 .25 .05

.87 .86 .86 .48 .38 .39 .62 1.14 .21 .60 .29

Controls Socioeconomic status 3.07 Parents age 34.20 Child lives with both biological parents .65 Child has disability .14 Childs age 74.67 Child in center care .20 Childs health 2.31 Birth weight 7.35 White .55 Black .15 Hispanic .18 Asian .06 Other race .05

1.42 6.72

4.50 .82 1.34

Note: These unweighted descriptive statistics are derived from one of the five data sets with imputed missing values.

(e) show sensitivity to the feelings of others. This measure ranges from 1 (never to all items) to 4 (very often to all items), with a reliability of a .89.

340 analyses excluding these few cases produced results similar to those reported here. To test whether childrens sibship size is related to their social and interpersonal skills, we chose to use the aforementioned binary variables, as opposed to a linear sibship size measure. This approach allowed us to explore the possibility that the relationship between sibship size and social skills is nonlinear, which is, in fact, what many theories predict. For instance, the resource dilution perspective predicts a 1/x functional relationship between sibship size and outcomes. The possibility that children benefit from having siblings when a particular threshold of sibship size is reached also suggests a nonlinear relationship, as does the possibility that children benefit most when sibling interactions are supervised by parents. In short, a linear sibship size term runs the risk of masking these kinds of patterns. Other dimensions of the sibship. Our primary interest is in how sibship size is related to social skills, but partitioning the sibship into several dimensions allows us to gain further insight into the kinds of siblings that influence social skills. We split sibship size into number of brothers and number of sisters. We also developed a measure that captures both age spacing and birth order by identifying siblings as falling into one of five categories: (a) 3 or more years older, (b) 1 or 2 years older, (c) within 1 year, (d) 1 or 2 years younger, and (e) 3 or more years younger (see Powell & Steelman, 1990). Finally, we distinguished between full, half, adopted, foster, and stepsiblings. Controls. As noted above, families with many versus few children might differ in important ways, and it is crucial to account for these factors to isolate the effects of the sibship on childrens social and interpersonal skills. Toward that end, we controlled for the following: (a) a quintile measure of socioeconomic status based on parents education, occupational prestige, and family income (1 lowest, 5 highest); (b) race whether the child is White (reference category), Black, Hispanic, Asian, or another race (0 no, 1 yes for each); (c) age of parentsthe average of both parents ages when both have valid data or one parents age when that is the only information available (19 youngest, 83 oldest); (d) family structurewhether the child lives with both biological parents (0 no, 1 yes); (e)

Journal of Marriage and Family whether the child has a disability as reported by the parent (0 no, 1 yes); (f) the childs age in months (52.47 youngest, 102.30 oldest); (g) whether the child is currently enrolled in an afterschool center-based program (0 no, 1 yes); (h) the childs health on a scale (0 poor, 4 excellent) reported by the parent; and (i) the childs birth weight in pounds as reported by the parent (1.0 to 13.7). Analytic Strategy We began by predicting childrens reading and math scores in unadjusted and adjusted restricted maximum likelihood models, replicating the relationship between sibship size and cognitive skills reported in previous research (see Table 2). These models gave us confidence that our sample produces results similar to past studies and that our control variables gauge important differences between families with varying numbers of children. We then predicted three teachers reports of childrens social skills: interpersonal skills, externalizing problem behaviors, and self-control (see Tables 3, 4, and 5). For each dependent variable, we ran a series of models that employ different measures of sibship size and composition. We began with sibship size, first entering several binary variables (one sibling, two siblings, three siblings, four or more siblings), which allowed us to assess the effect of having each number of siblings with respect to having no siblings (Model 1). We then added the aforementioned controls to test whether any initial relationships between sibship size and social skills persist once a wide variety of covariates are taken into account (Model 2). Model 3 decomposed sibship size into number of brothers and number of sisters. Model 4 captured dimensions of birth order and spacing. Finally, Model 5 estimated the effects of full, half, adopted, foster, and stepsiblings. Although we removed children with no siblings as a referent group in our models focusing on sibship size (Models 1 and 2), in Models 35, no referent category was removed. Each coefficient in Models 35 therefore represents the effect of having an additional sibling (of that type) versus not. For example, the coefficient for number of brothers represents the effect of having an additional brother versus not having an additional brother. To handle missing data, we performed multiple imputation, which imputed values five different

Sibship Size and Social Skills


TABLE 2 RESTRICTED MAXIMUM LIKELIHOOD ESTIMATES OF CHILDRENS COGNITIVE SKILLS (N 20,649) Reading Skills Unadjusted One sibling (vs. none) Two siblings (vs. none) Three siblings (vs. none) Four or more siblings (vs. none) Socioeconomic status Parents age Child has disability (vs. does not) Childs age Child in center care (vs. not) Childs health Birth weight Lives with both biological parents (vs. all other family types) Black (vs. White) Hispanic (vs. White) Asian (vs. White) Other race (vs. White) Adjusted Math Skills Unadjusted

341

Adjusted

.456 (.229) 1.002** (.236) 2.376** (.339) 4.827** (.417)

.173 (.209) 1.459** (.227) 2.591** (.318) 4.571** (.392) 2.453** (.067) .054** (.013) 2.673** (.250) .338** (.018) .360 (.217) .886** (.098) .262* (.060) .717** (.190) .854** (.275) 4.687** (.246) .729* (.357) .549 (.396) 6.57

.884** (.189) .189 (.188) .485 (.273) 2.579** (.337)

.260 (.166) .351 (.173) .850** (.253) 2.477* (.309) 1.765** (.057) .054** (.009) 2.630** (.188) .411** (.015) .457* (.155) .584** (.074) .427** (.046) .781** (.153) 2.801** (.216) 2.489** (.185) 2.435** (.264) 1.699** (.296) 14.39

Constant Note: Standard errors are in parentheses. *p < .01. **p < .001 (two-tailed tests).

30.16

26.23

times based on all variables included in the final models and a random error component. (See Allison, 2002, for a useful explanation of the advantages of multiple imputation.) Results based on listwise deletion of missing data were similar. In addition, clustered sampling designs like that used for ECLS-K typically result in a sample with less variation among children than what would be observed if children were drawn from the popula-

tion of all U.S. kindergartners using simple random sampling. As a result, standard errors are typically biased downward, increasing the likelihood of rejecting the null hypothesis. Our restricted maximum likelihood models corrected the standard errors for the clustering of students within schools, an adjustment that tends to increase the standard errors by 10% to 40% and thus reduce the likelihood of incorrectly rejecting a null hypothesis.

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TABLE 3 RESTRICTED MAXIMUM LIKELIHOOD ESTIMATES OF CHILDRENS INTERPERSONAL SKILLS (N 20,649) Interpersonal Skills Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4 Model 5

One sibling (vs. none) Two siblings (vs. none) Three siblings (vs. none) Four or more siblings (vs. none) Number of brothers Number of sisters Siblings ! 3 years older Siblings 12 years older Siblings within 1 year Siblings 12 years younger Siblings ! 3 years younger Full siblings Stepsiblings Half siblings Adopted and foster siblings Socioeconomic status Parents age Child has disability (vs. does not) Childs age Child in center care (vs. not) Childs health Birth weight Lives with both biological parents (vs. all other family types)

.112** (.015) .120** (.014) .074** (.019) .054 (.025)

.068** (.015) .073** (.014) .039 (.019) .030 (.024) .005 (.006) .002 (.006) .003 (.007) .020 (.010) .007 (.012) .010 (.012) .009 (.009) .009 (.004) .026 (.033) .032** (.008) .030 (.022) .045** (.005) .001 (.000) .154** (.013) .006** (.001) .102** (.012) .033** (.006) .006 (.004) .112** (.012)

.046** (.005) .001 (.000) .161** (.013) .005** (.001) .111** (.012) .035** (.006) .004 (.004) .114** (.012)

.045** (.005) .001 (.000) .156** (.013) .006** (.001) .103** (.012) .034** (.006) .005 (.004) .126** (.012)

.046** (.005) .001 (.000) .157** (.013) .006** (.001) .103** (.012) .034** (.006) .005 (.004) .126** (.012)

Sibship Size and Social Skills


TABLE 3. CONTINUED Interpersonal Skills Model 1 Black (vs. White) Hispanic (vs. White) Asian (vs. White) Other race (vs. White) Constant Model 2 Model 3 Model 4

343

Model 5

2.25

.138* (.016) .020 (.016) .039 (.021) .056 (.022) 2.37

.140* (.016) .022 (.016) .031 (.021) .057 (.022) 2.44

.141* (.016) .022 (.016) .031 (.021) .056 (.022) 2.44

.142* (.016) .022 (.016) .029 (.021) .055 (.022) 2.46

Note: Standard errors are in parentheses. *p < .01. **p < .001 (two-tailed tests).

(For further information, see U.S. Department of Education, 2000.) Further, given the statistical power of over 20,000 cases, we rejected the null hypothesis only when coefficients were significant at the .01 level or below in two-tailed tests. RESULTS Number of Siblings and Cognitive Skills Table 2 presents the results of unadjusted and adjusted models predicting childrens reading and math test scores. The unadjusted model suggests that children benefit by having one versus no siblings in terms of math skills (b .884; p < .001). Consistent with past research, however, this limited advantage appears to be a function of important differences between the kinds of families with one versus two children because the effect is no longer significant in the adjusted model. Indeed, like the bulk of past research, once we statistically adjust the models to account for differences in family structure, socioeconomic status, and other background characteristics, our models reveal no cognitive skill advantage to having even one sibling. When the focus is on slightly larger sibships (e.g., children with two, three, or four or more siblings), the effects are consistently negative. Again, consistent with past work, children with zero or one sibling(s) outperform their counterparts with two or more siblings on both math and reading standardized tests. In some cases, the magnitude of the effect of living in a small versus large family is noteworthy. For example, the difference between

having four or more versus zero siblings for reading tests scores is comparable to moving up 2 points on the 5-point SES scale. Number of Siblings and Social Skills Our main question is whether we can locate an advantage to having siblings when the focus is on childrens social and interpersonal skills. Table 3 presents the results of models predicting teachers ratings of kindergartners interpersonal skills. Model 1 suggests that teachers rate children with one sibling (b .112; p < .001), two siblings (b .120; p < .001), and three siblings (b .074; p < .001) as having better interpersonal skills than those with no siblings. These differences are reduced by roughly 50% in the adjusted Model 2, but the coefficients for one sibling and two siblings are still statistically significant, consistent with the hypothesis that childrens interpersonal skills are improved as a result of exposure to one or two versus no siblings at home. Decomposing sibship size into number of brothers and number of sisters, or older and younger siblings, reveals no statistically significant patterns, but we do see evidence that full siblings promote interpersonal skills whereas half siblings do not (Model 5). In Table 4, we see that teachers also rate children with siblings as exhibiting fewer externalizing problem behaviors than only children. In Model 1, children with any number of siblings are rated better than only children (negative coefficients represent fewer problem behaviors), and this time, the effects persist even in the adjusted models. Differences between brothers and sisters are negligible, and

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TABLE 4 CHILDRENS EXTERNALIZING PROBLEM BEHAVIORS (N 20,649) Externalizing Problem Behaviors Model 1 Model 2 .095** (.012) .117** (.013) .115** (.024) .115** (.024) .019** (.006) .023** (.005) .016* (.006) .035* (.010) .038* (.011) .050** (.012) .010 (.008) .034** (.004) .003 (.030) .017 (.008) .017 (.016) .025** (.004) .001 (.000) .119** (.013) .002 (.001) .182** (.013) .018* (.006) .007 (.004) .133** (.012) Model 3 Model 4 Model 5

RESTRICTED MAXIMUM LIKELIHOOD ESTIMATES

OF

One sibling (vs. none) Two siblings (vs. none) Three siblings (vs. none) Four or more siblings (vs. none) Number of brothers Number of sisters Siblings ! 3 years older Siblings 12 years older Siblings within 1 year Siblings 12 years younger Siblings ! 3 years younger Full siblings Stepsiblings Half siblings Adopted and foster siblings Socioeconomic status Parents age Child has disability (vs. does not) Childs age Child in center care (vs. not) Childs health Birth weight Lives with both biological parents (vs. all other family types)

.147** (.012) .176** (.013) .163** (.018) .170** (.024)

.024** (.004) .002 (.000) .129** (.013) .002 (.001) .186** (.013) .018* (.006) .006 (.004) .140** (.012)

.025** (.004) .001 (.000) .121** (.013) .002 (.001) .183** (.013) .018* (.006) .006 (.004) .152** (.012)

.025** (.004) .001 (.000) .122** (.013) .002 (.001) .183** (.013) .019* (.006) .006 (.004) .152** (.012)

Sibship Size and Social Skills


TABLE 4. CONTINUED Externalizing Problem Behaviors Model 1 Black (vs. White) Hispanic (vs. White) Asian (vs. White) Other race (vs. White) Model 2 .155** (.017) .014 (.014) .140** (.020) .061* (.022) 2.11 2.05 Model 3 .156** (.017) .010 (.014) .128** (.020) .065* (.022) 1.99 Model 4 .156** (.017) .011 (.014) .128** (.020) .064* (.022) 2.00

345

Model 5 .159** (.017) .010 (.014) .123** (.020) .062* (.022) 1.97

Constant Note: Standard errors are in parentheses. *p < .01. **p < .001 (two-tailed tests).

there is only modest evidence that birth order and spacing matter, with children benefiting the least from siblings 3 or more years younger. Similar to the results for interpersonal skills, full siblings are associated with better evaluations (b .034; p < .001), whereas half and stepsiblings are not. Having siblings versus not having any is also associated with better teacher evaluations of selfcontrol (Table 5). Children with siblingsany numberare rated as exhibiting more selfcontrol than only children, a pattern that persists in adjusted models. Children do not appear to gain this skill any more from sisters versus brothers, however, and the effects for birth order and spacing are modest but hint at more closely spaced siblings as promoting self-control better than those widely spaced. Finally, full siblings once again promote social skills (b .020; p < .001) but other kinds of siblings do not. In sum, we see consistent evidence that children are rated as exhibiting better social and interpersonal skills when they have at least one sibling. Recall that the apparent cognitive benefit of having one versus no siblings disappears when we control for differences between the kinds of families producing different numbers of children (Table 2). In contrast, when our models predicting social skills are subjected to the same statistical controls, the benefit of having siblings persists. There is also moderate evidence that full siblings promote childrens social skills more so than other types of siblings. This pattern may reflect a real benefit of interacting with full siblings compared to other types of siblings, or it

may reflect differences (not measured in our models) between children with full and other types of siblings. As one example, children with other types of siblings may experience more residential moves than children with full siblings as a result of changes in family structure. To the extent that moves cause familial stress, the lower levels of social skills observed among children with other types of siblings may reflect this additional familial stress rather than actual lower quality sibling relationships. In supplemental analyses (not shown), we tested whether only children in (a) socioeconomically advantaged families and in (b) biological mother and father households are less susceptible to exhibiting poor social skills than their counterparts in poor households and those lacking one or both biological parents. Models with interactions (sibship size*socioeconomic status and sibship size*mother and father household status) suggest that only childrens generally poorer social skills are evident in high-SES and mother and father households too. Overall, these patterns suggest that the consequences of sibship size for childrens social skills do not vary in important ways across subgroups (e.g., socioeconomic status, family structure). The benefit of having an additional sibling appears roughly similar for all groups. We also considered the effect of brothers versus sisters in models restricted to comparisons between children with zero and one sibling(s) so that our gender composition variable was not confounded with sibship size. These results suggested that when children have just one sibling,

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TABLE 5 RESTRICTED MAXIMUM LIKELIHOOD ESTIMATES OF CHILDRENS SELF-CONTROL (N 20,649) Self-Control Model 1 Model 2 .079** (.013) .088** (.018) .081** (.018) .074* (.025) .007 (.006) .011 (.006) .006 (.005) .026 (.010) .020 (.011) .033* (.011) .002 (.008) .020** (.005) .017 (.029) .022 (.009) .022 (.020) .031** (.004) .001 (.000) .138** (.016) .004** (.001) .130** (.012) .019 (.008) .005 (.004) .128** (.013) Model 3 Model 4 Model 5

One sibling (vs. none) Two siblings (vs. none) Three siblings (vs. none) Four or more siblings (vs. none) Number of brothers Number of sisters Siblings ! 3 years older Siblings 12 years older Siblings within 1 year Siblings 12 years younger Siblings ! 3 years younger Full siblings Stepsiblings Half siblings Adopted and foster siblings Socioeconomic status Parents age Child has disability (vs. does not) Childs age Child in center care (vs. not) Childs health Birth weight Lives with both biological parents (vs. all other family types)

.126** (.012) .140** (.013) .124** (.017) .114** (.023)

.032** (.004) .001 (.000) .144** (.016) .005** (.001) .135** (.012) .020 (.008) .006 (.004) .131** (.013)

.031** (.004) .001 (.000) .139** (.016) .005** (.001) .131** (.012) .020 (.008) .005 (.004) .143** (.013)

.031** (.004) .001 (.000) .140** (.016) .005** (.001) .130** (.012) .020 (.008) .005 (.004) .142** (.013)

Sibship Size and Social Skills


TABLE 5. CONTINUED Self-Control Model 1 Black (vs. White) Hispanic (vs. White) Asian (vs. White) Other race (vs. White) Model 2 .162** (.018) .002 (.014) .093** (.019) .047 (.022) 2.44 2.54 Model 3 .165** (.018) .007 (.018) .086** (.019) .051 (.022) 2.62 Model 4 .165** (.018) .007 (.014) .086** (.021) .050 (.022) 2.61

347

Model 5 .166** (.018) .007 (.018) .082** (.019) .048 (.022) 2.64

Constant Note: Standard errors are in parentheses. *p < .01. **p < .001 (two-tailed tests).

there is no social skills advantage to having a sister versus a brother. DISCUSSION Although common sense suggests that children benefit from having some brothers and sisters, until now, there has been very little empirical support for this position (Blake et al., 1991; Polit & Falbo, 1987). Indeed, the consensus among past studies of the relationship between sibship size and social skills was that additional siblings have no positive effect on social skills. As a result, Blake (1981b) argued that the commonly espoused prejudice against the only child was unjustified. Our study improves upon past work in several ways, however, and we come to a different conclusion. We find that children with siblings exhibit better social and interpersonal skills, on average, than children without siblings. If childrens social skills improve as a result of exposure to at least one sibling, the patterns we observe here could cumulate over time so that the gap in social skills between only children and children with siblings would grow. Although we consistently find more support for the siblings as resources view than the resource dilution view, less clear is which sibship size is most conducive to the development of social skills. Some of our patterns suggest that the main distinction is between children with zero versus any siblings, consistent with the threshold

argument that children benefit from one sibling as much as several. The two dependent variables following this pattern (self-control and externalizing problem behaviors) primarily indicate the extent to which children can regulate negative emotions (Fabes, Hanish, Martin, & Eisenberg, 2002). Perhaps having siblings, even just one, more frequently puts children in positions in which they experience and are expected to control these negative emotions. For one of our dependent variables, however, the results indicate that the benefit of siblings begins to wane as sibship size increases. Teachers ratings of childrens interpersonal skills (e.g., forming and maintaining friendships, getting along with people who are different, showing sensitivity to the feelings of others) suggest that children with one or two siblings are more skilled than those with no siblings, but that additional siblings beyond two are no better than having no siblings. Overall, these patterns are consistent with the view that childrens social skills improve when they have at least one sibling but that this benefit declines when sibship size grows to three or more. If this relationship is causal, it may represent childrens greater opportunities for parent-supervised sibling interactions in small sibships versus large sibships or families with only one child. In analyzing whether some types of siblings affect social skills differently from others, we find little support for the position that children benefit more from sisters than brothers, and only

348 modest evidence that closely spaced siblings (presumably providing greater opportunities for interaction) promote social skills more than widely spaced siblings. Our most consistent evidence, in terms of the kinds of siblings that matter, is that children benefit more from exposure to full siblings than other kinds of siblings. This study represents the first attempt (that we are aware of) to study the relationship between number of siblings and social skills using thirdparty ratings in nationally representative data. Although our results provide a basis for future work, the ways in which our conclusions are tempered should not be overlooked. First, although these results are the first to suggest a consistent social skills advantage for children with siblings, the size of the siblings effect is modest. Sibship size effects are typically of greater consequence, sometimes of much greater consequence, for social skill development than moving up one unit on a 5-point SES scale, but they are still not large. Based on these results, we would hesitate to encourage parents of only children to have another child as a strategy for developing their existing childs social skills. Second, we maintained a focus on sibship size and other structural components of sibship, but our results raise several questions about the processes occurring within families that shape social skills. At the aggregate level, teachers rate children with one sibling as more socially skilled than children with no siblings, but we would learn more about why siblings are associated with better social skills if we studied the processes within families and between siblings that promote social skill development. To date, this kind of work suggests that some sibling relationships (e.g., those characterized by warmth and engagement) are better than others (Brody, 1998; Dunn, Slomkowski, Beardsall, & Rende, 1994). Further work along these lines might identify conditions (e.g., chronically high-conflict sibling relationships) under which an additional sibling is not an advantage over only-child status. Third, measuring childrens social skills persuasively remains a challenge. We used scales constructed from multiple questions asked of teachers. We were interested in teacher evaluations because we wanted to test whether siblings at home would be associated with social skills exhibited elsewhere, such as the classroom. In supplemental analyses, we considered how parent evaluations of social skills were related to sibship size. In some cases (e.g., externalizing problem

Journal of Marriage and Family behaviors), the patterns replicate what we reported here, based on teacher evaluations. In other cases (e.g., interpersonal skills), the patterns were different; parents of only children gave ratings of their children that were more similar to those of parents of children with one or two siblings, and better than those of parents with children who have three or more siblings. These discrepancies, perhaps a result of parents emphasizing at-home interactions while teachers rated at-school interactions, merit further investigation. Fourth, our models more rigorously controlled for differences between families of varying sibship size than past studies, but we still cannot dismiss the possibility that the patterns we observe here merely reflect a spurious relationship between sibship size and social skills. There are probably differences, unaccounted for in our models, between families with one versus more than one child; our pattern of results could reflect these unmeasured differences rather than any real benefit of siblings. What might these unobserved characteristics be? One possibility is that parents fertility decisions are shaped in part by the temperament of their current children. If, for example, parents with a difficult child stop at one birth more frequently than parents of amiable children, our pattern of results may not reflect a social skills benefit to sibling exposure, but temperamental differences between childrendifferences that shaped the number of children their parents wanted. In our study, these variations in temperament are probably gauged in part by our indicators of childrens birth weight, health, and disability status, but these are surely imperfect measures. Another possibility is that parents with only one child are, on average, less socially skilled than their counterparts who have two children. If this is the case, children with a sibling might exhibit greater social skills than those without a sibling because of skills learned from their parents, not their siblings. Resolving these issues with nonexperimental data is a challenge, but one possibility is to use gain or sibling resemblance models. In supplemental analyses, for example, we found that children in the ECLS-K who gained a sibling between the beginning of kindergarten and the end of first grade did not gain more social skills than their counterparts who did not gain a sibling, evidence consistent with the spurious explanation. But because past research suggests that children exhibit poorer social skills during the first 2 years after a new sibling is born

Sibship Size and Social Skills (Baydar et al., 1997), these results offer little help. The less-than-2-year interval between the first and last wave of available ECLS-K data is too short to expect an observable social skills benefit from adding such young siblings. Future waves of ECLS-K data may make this test more reasonable, but even then the tests will only assess the effects of a particular kind of sibling (e.g., widely spaced younger siblings). Researchers have also employed sibling resemblance models, but they require at least one sibling and thus would be inappropriate for assessing the main finding in this study: that there are social skills differences between children with zero and one or more siblings. Despite these persistent concerns, the results from this study make a compelling case for the position that children hone social and interpersonal skills through sibling interactions at home, and that these skills then become useful outside the home. In the last four decades, the average number of children ever born to American women has been nearly cut in half, and yet the consequences of this important demographic shift are not well understood. On average, children may receive more parental resources (Downey, 1995) and more help paying for college now than in the past (Steelman & Powell, 1989). But our study suggests that the generally good news accompanying lower fertility has at least one downside: When it comes to learning how to get along with peers, children may miss out in important ways by not having at least one sibling. NOTE
The authors appreciate the helpful comments and suggestions of Brian Powell, Lisa N. Hickman, and Maureen Tobin.

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