Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 4 » Sibling Relationships - Prevalence Of Siblings In Later Life, How Important Are Siblings For Older Adults?, Factors Affecting Sibling Relationships

Sibling Relationships - Prevalence Of Siblings In Later Life

age social age adults cohorts baby

Most older adults have at least one living sibling. According to the General Social Survey’s data from the mid-1980s, the majority of community-dwelling older adults are likely to have a sister until age eighty-five and a brother until age eighty. This sex difference is likely due to the gender mortality gap, whereby men predecease women by seven to nine years, on average. In general, however, a high proportion of older adults has at least one sibling until the mid-eighties, when a precipitous drop occurs. This pattern is shown in Table 1.

According to General Social Survey data, the number of living siblings an elderly person has depends on the age of the older adult and the sex of his or her siblings. The majority of respondents who had any sisters had two or more until their early eighties while the majority of respondents who had brothers had multiple brothers until their mid-seventies. Whether future older adults can expect to have at least one sibling until advanced old age depends upon two factors. One is the fertility pattern for the birth cohorts in question; that is, the number of babies born to the parents of the older adults. In large families, one would expect a larger pool of potential siblings to survive into old age. The second factor is life expectancy for the cohorts in question—a Table 1 Percent of older adults who have any living siblings. SOURCE: General Social Survey, 1986. longer life expectancy is related to the survival of a greater number of siblings. Assuming the dramatic increases in life expectancy of the twentieth century will be sustained, if not increased, in the twenty-first century, then fertility rates will be the determining factor.

Fertility rates declined in Western societies during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; meaning that families have been producing fewer numbers of offspring. Amidst this general decline, however, a baby boom occurred immediately following World War II (between 1946 and 1964, approximately), thereby increasing the potential pool of siblings who might survive into the baby boomers’ old age. The fertility of baby boomers’ children on the other hand, appears to be substantially lower than that of their parents, thereby returning to the overall general decline in family size. Predictions tend to support a drastic reduction in siblings after the baby boom. However, these predictions do not seem to take into account the higher life expectancy and the increase in blended and reconstituted families.

Table 2 shows cohort trends in the number of siblings (dead or alive) for people born between 1911 and 1980. One-child families (respondents with no siblings) were most common during the Great Depression and the decade preceding it; but, for all cohorts, one-child families were the exception rather than the rule. Comparing current older adults with baby boomers, greater proportions of boomers have Table 2 Distribution of people born at different historical periods by number of siblings (half- or step-siblings, adopted, biological), whether dead or alive. SOURCE: General Social Survey, 2000. ever had two, three, four or more siblings than war babies. The post-boomer cohorts show a reduction in the number of siblings, so that a larger proportion have one and two siblings, but 30 percent of post-boomers still have four or more siblings. Because these siblings are more likely to survive into old age than those of earlier cohorts, predictions of greatly decreased availability of siblings in later years may be exaggerated, especially when all varieties of siblings are considered.

Sibling Relationships - How Important Are Siblings For Older Adults? [next]

User Comments

The following comments are not guaranteed to be that of a trained medical professional. Please consult your physician for advice.

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or