Whether your kids get along with one another has little to do with their college prospects. But a new study suggests that the relationship between two siblings may help predict whether they follow similar paths after high school. Close siblings, the researchers found, tend to either graduate college or drop out together. And interestingly, how each sibling perceived the other’s relationship with their father emerged as one of the strongest predictors of college graduation.
“Parent education and family programs should move beyond a focus on mother-child relationships by including fathers, and by studying the experiences of siblings,” said coauthor on the study Susan McHale of The Pennsylvania State University, in a statement.
Prior studies have demonstrated that younger siblings tend to mimic their older brothers and sisters, whether they’re modeling positive behaviors, such as empathy, or negative behaviors, such as drug abuse. But few studies have examined what happens when siblings don’t get along. Do younger siblings make their own way, or begrudgingly follow their tormentors?
For the study, McHale and colleagues interviewed first and second-born adults from 152 families, asking about their relationships with their siblings in middle childhood and whether they ultimately graduated college. They also asked about one of the most frequent sources of sibling rivalry — perceived inequities regarding how moms and dads spend time with and treat each of their children. They found that warmth between siblings increased their likelihood of having the same college graduation status for better or for worse, confirming prior research.
But they were surprised to discover that, when there was less warmth in middle childhood, siblings were more likely to follow divergent paths. This effect was exacerbated when one of the siblings spent more time with their father, or felt that either parent treated them differently.
“Our findings have implications for parenting and family dynamics,” coauthor Xiaoran Sun, also of Penn State, said in a statement. “Parents need to be aware of how siblings can influence one another and monitor their children’s interactions, as well as how they as parents treat their children.”