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 - How Important Are Siblings For Older Adults?

age social percent contact support life

As seen above, until very old age, adults are likely to have at least one sister and/or brother. There is little doubt that siblings are highly valued in later life. This value is based on: (1) physical proximity and the amount of contact siblings have with one another, (2) the functions they serve one another related to contact, and (3) the functions they serve one another independent of contact. As will be seen, the third, symbolic function tends to best capture the importance of siblings for older people.

Sibling proximity and contact. Based on a representative sample of black and non-Hispanic white Americans age fifty-five and older (Minor and Uhlenberg, 1997), about 30 percent live between two and twenty-five miles from their nearest sibling. Just over 20 percent live at least 300 miles apart. As for the remaining 50 percent, most blacks (41 percent) have a sibling neighbor (within two miles) while whites are nearly evenly split between having a sibling neighbor (22 percent) and having a sibling between 26 and 299 miles away (25 percent).

Sibling contact (visits, phone calls, and letters) decreases in the course of adulthood, but in later life it increases somewhat. Adults generally maintain contact with their step- and half-siblings, but less than they do with full siblings. Whether this pattern is found for older adults as well is not known at this time. In general, sibling contact is meager. In an Indiana study (see Cicirelli, 1995), only 17 percent of the older respondents saw their most frequently contacted sibling weekly or more often, and one third saw their sibling monthly. The most typical frequency was several times per year.

What do siblings do for each other? Most studies confirm that siblings do not provide much instrumental support (e.g., performing household and other tasks) for each other in later years. Of those with a sibling within twenty-five miles, providing and receiving help with transportation is the most common form of instrumental support, yet such support is found only for 6 percent (providing transportation) and 5 percent (receiving transportation help) of older adults. Expressive support (e.g., advice, encouragement, moral or emotional support) can be transmitted and received from any distance and is more common, with 14 percent receiving and 16 percent providing expressive support. Some of these percentages vary by ethnic communities and by gender composition of the sibling pair, but, overall, sibling relationships in later life are not characterized primarily by the giving and receiving of social support, whether instrumental or expressive.

Symbolic functions of siblings. Despite the relatively infrequent rates of sibling contact or social support, most older adults report feeling very close to their siblings. Feelings of closeness have a cognitive (symbolic) component based on a shared past. Siblings are likely to share values, goals, and knowledge domains based on generational commonalities, such as fads or sociopolitical and historical events. Unlike friends, however, they also share early memories, which allows them to know each other’s personal references. As peers, siblings are unique family members throughout life, because they have the potential to share ideas and experiences more openly than parents and children who may be inhibited in some domains by generational barriers.

Siblings also serve as a special kind of attachment figure to one another in later life. Although their physical presence may not be sought frequently, most older adults sincerely believe that a sibling would come to their aid in a crisis, regardless of whether they get along well. In this way, siblings provide a safety net that, although rarely mobilized, provides a sense of security.

Sibling Relationships - Factors Affecting Sibling Relationships [next] [back] Sibling Relationships - Prevalence Of Siblings In Later Life

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