Sibling Relationships Around the World

Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply. – Jane Austen

In honor of National Siblings Day today, we are exploring how sibling relationships differ around the world. Siblings generally spend more time with each other during childhood than they do with parents or anyone else, and sibling relationships are often the longest-lasting relationship in individuals’ lives (Larson & Richards, 1994). Siblings serve as companions, confidants, and role models in childhood and adolescence (e.g., Dunn, 2007) and as sources of support throughout adulthood (e.g., Connidis & Campbell, 1995).

Around 80% of people in the United States have siblings. In Western societies, the sibling relationship tends to be identified by biological or genealogical criteria and it is typically less important than the spousal or parent-child relationship.

In comparison, in some non-Western cultures, a sibling may be more important than a spouse; in oth-ers, cousins may be considered siblings (Adams 1999). For example, in the Malo culture of New Hebri-des in Oceania, all cousins of the same sex, the parent’s siblings of the same sex, and grandparents of the same sex are considered to be siblings.

A study of adolescents found that youth in Asia and Latin America held stronger family values and higher expectations regarding their obligations to assist, respect, and support their families than did their European counterparts (Fulgini, Tseng, and Lam 2000).

In industrialized cultures, people are encouraged to stay in contact and cooperate with their brothers and sisters, but this is not an obligation. Older siblings in these cultures are sometimes given responsi-bilities to watch over a younger sibling, but this is only occasional, with parents taking on the primary role of caretaker.

In contrast, close sibling relationships in non-industrialized cultures are often obligatory, with strong cultural norms prompting cooperation and close proximity between siblings. In India, the brother-sister sibling relationship is so cherished that a festival is held in observance called Raksha Bandhan. At this celebration, the sister presents the brother with a woven bracelet to show their lasting bond even when they have raised their own families. These cultures also extend caregiving roles to older siblings, who are constantly expected to watch over younger siblings.

In Taiwan there is a unique family structure called take-turn stem families where siblings make an ar-rangement, according to a timeline, in which parents will live with them. Siblings take turns and coop-erate to support and take care of their parents. Caring for parents often brings siblings into close and frequent contact with each other.

Whatever we or our siblings become when they grow up thy are all unique and special to us and we are lucky to have them in our lives. Don’t forget to give your siblings a real or virtual hug this year on April 10 and let them know how much you appreciate them!

Co-written by Lynda Walz, Sales Executive and Jon Kuykendall-Barrett, Account Executive