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Siblings Decrease Divorce Risk

Update Date: Aug 13, 2013 09:07 AM EDT

Having brothers and sisters decreases the risk of divorce as an adult, new research suggests.

The nationwide study also found that protective effect increases with the number of siblings a person has. Researchers found that the risk of divorce reduces by 2 percent for each additional sibling.

While the difference between having no siblings and having one or two isn't very dramatic, researchers said there is a significant gap when comparing children from large families to those with only one child.

Surprisingly, the difference wasn't just about having siblings. Instead, it was the number of siblings that made the real impact, according to researchers.

"We expected that if you had any siblings at all, that would give you the experience with personal relationships that would help you in marriage," co-researcher Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State's Marion campus, said in a news release.

"But we found that the real story appears to be how family dynamics change incrementally with the addition of each sibling. Having more siblings means more experience dealing with others, and that seems to provide additional help in dealing with a marriage relationship as an adult," she explained.

The study used data from 57,000 adults from across the United States at 28 points between 1972 and 2012.

The findings revealed that each additional sibling provided additional protection from divorce.  However, having more than seven siblings did not provide additional protection.  Researchers noted that this beneficial effect of siblings was seen among Americans of all generations.

"Siblings help protect against divorce among adults now just as much as they did 50 years ago," Bobbitt-Zeher said.

Even after accounting for factors like parental education, socioeconomic status, family structure, race, age at marriage, whether respondents had children, gender role attitudes and religious affiliation, the link between siblings and later divorce still held strong.

Researchers say there are many reasons to explain the protective effect of having siblings.

"Growing up in a family with siblings, you develop a set of skills for negotiating both negative and positive interactions. You have to consider other people's points of view, learn how to talk through problems. The more siblings you have, the more opportunities you have to practice those skills," co-author Doug Downey, a professor of sociology at The Ohio State University, said in a news release. "That can be a good foundation for adult relationships, including marriage."

Previous studies found that kindergarten students with siblings were rated as having better social skills than only children. However, other studies found that only children or those with fewer siblings had better grades in school.

Researchers said the latest study wanted to look at the effect of siblings later in life and to see how it impacts more major life events.

"Evaluations of social skills and grades aren't trivial, but divorce is a more concrete, consequential event in a person's life. This is the first study to look at how siblings affect such a consequential event in adulthood," Downey said.

The findings will be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

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