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 - Factors Affecting Sibling Relationships

age aging social siblings life family support

The relationship between twins in late life is being studied for the first time. Such studies may reveal whether genes, environment, or both contribute to the quality of sibling relationships in late life. Because both identical and fraternal twins have more contact, provide more support, live closer, and feel emotionally closer than other siblings, it appears that the early environment has some kind of influence on the late-life relationship. By virtue of being born at the same time, both kinds of twins have more in common, such as more shared experiences early in life, than other siblings. But genes also play a role in the late-life relationship. For identical twins, satisfaction with the relationship and attachment security are completely independent of contact with the sibling, but this is not the case with fraternal twins, who have no more genes in common than any other siblings. (Neyer).

Race appears to have some influence on late-life sibling relationships. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, blacks tend to live nearer to their siblings, they tend to have more contact with siblings who live nearby, and they report that they provide more emotional support to their siblings. Race does not appear to influence instrumental support exchanges, however.

The general pattern of low social support from siblings in later life changes when a spouse, adult child, or other close relative is unavailable or nonexistent. For instance, feelings of closeness to a sibling and confiding in a sibling increase in the absence of other core family members. This substitution function of siblings becomes increasingly likely in very old age, particularly for women. While 53 percent of very old men (over age eighty-four, community-dwelling, and white) have a living spouse, only 9 percent of comparable women have a spouse. The increased divorce rate, the higher rate of childlessness, and the reduced fertility of younger cohorts are likely to result in a greater reliance on siblings for informal support in later years, compared to previous cohorts.

Gender also seems to influence sibling closeness. Sister dyads tend to be the most intimate, but there is less agreement on which combination of siblings is more intimate, sister-brother or brother dyads. Men are less likely than women to reveal their feelings toward siblings, but they may, nonetheless, hold sentiments of value and affection as deeply as women do.



BANK, S. P., and KAHN, M. D. The Sibling Bond. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

BEDFORD, V. H. ‘‘Sibling Relationships in Middle Adulthood and Old Age.’’ In Handbook on Aging and the Family. Edited by R. Blieszner and V. H. Bedford. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, Press, 1995. Pages 201–222.

BEDFORD, V. H. ‘‘Sibling Interdependence in Adulthood and Old Age.’’ In Vision 2010: Families and Aging, vol. 3, no. 2. Edited by T. Brubaker. Minneapolis, Minn.: National Council on Family Relations, 1996. Pages 18–19.

BEDFORD, V. H., and AVIOLI, P. S. ‘‘Variations on Sibling Intimacy in Old Age.’’ Generations 25 (2001): 34–40.

CICIRELLI, V. G. Sibling Relationships Across the Life Span. New York: Plenum Press, 1995.

CONNIDIS, I. A. Family Ties and Aging. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2001.

CONNIDIS, I. A., and CAMPBELL, L. D. ‘‘Closeness, Confiding, and Contact Among Siblings in Middle and Late Adulthood.’’ Journal of Family Issues 16 (1995): 722–747.

CONNIDIS I. A., and DAVIES, L. ‘‘Confidants and Companions in Later Life: The Place of Family and Friends.’’ Journal of Gerontology 45 (1990): S141–S149.

General Social Survey. Cumulative datafile. Available online at http://sda.berkeley.edu.

GOLD, D. T. ‘‘Late-life Sibling Relationships: Does Race Affect Typological Distribution?’’ The Gerontologist 30 (1990): 741–748.

HOCHSCHILD, A. R. The Unexpected Community. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

MINOR, S., and UHLENBERG, P. ‘‘Intragenerational Proximity and the Social Role of Sibling Neighbors After Midlife.’’ Family Relations 46 (1997): 145–153.

NEYER, F. J. ‘‘Twin Relationships in Old Age.’’ Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 7 (2001): 767–789.

WHITE, L. K., and RIEDMANN, A. ‘‘When the Brady Bunch Grows Up: Step/Half- and Full Sibling Relationships in Adulthood.’’ Journal of Marriage and the Family 54 (1992b): 197–208.

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

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