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When I'm bad, do I still get to blame my brothers and sisters?
July 9, 2006 2:45 AM   Subscribe

The New "Science" of Siblings An amusing article from Time magazine by Jeffrey Kluger which reports that your siblings have more influece on your personality than any other group-- parents, peers, spouses, children, etc. My ex-wife thinks I'm sarcastic, combative, insensitive, etc. Do I get to blame my brothers and sisters for this now? Another article on this issue "The Science of Siblings". Apparently, they could have made me more likely to be gay too.
posted by notmtwain (28 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Scientific American also reported that having brothers is disruptive to academic progress.
posted by notmtwain at 2:49 AM on July 9, 2006


Apparently, they could have made me more likely to be gay too.

Not that there's anything wrong with that...
posted by notmtwain at 2:59 AM on July 9, 2006


I often wonder what effect on the national character the One Child Policy in China will have. Think of it, an entire nation of "only" children.
posted by trinarian at 3:00 AM on July 9, 2006


According to the Time and the other reports, this is no big deal." All families, even big ones, start off with an only child. Some, however, stop there. Is that a mistake? Do kids denied the gift of sibs turn out to be spoiled, withdrawn, socially ham-handed?

The thinking used to be yes, yes, yes. But as increasing numbers of sibling researchers look at the question of singletons—the new, sensitivity-trained term for only children—they say such assumptions are becoming less and less accurate. No one has studied the only child more closely than social psychologist Toni Falbo of the University of Texas at Austin. In the 1970s, Falbo became interested in whether the popular singleton stereotype was true, and embarked on 30 years of research in the U.S., China, South Korea and elsewhere. She conducted personality surveys, administered questionnaires and conducted meta-analyses of other relevant research papers--essentially recrunching the singleton data in other scientists' work. Her conclusion: single kids do just fine—most of the time."
posted by notmtwain at 3:11 AM on July 9, 2006


She conducted personality surveys, administered questionnaires and conducted meta-analyses of other relevant research papers--essentially recrunching the singleton data in other scientists' work. Her conclusion: single kids do just fine—most of the time."

What are meta-analyses by the way? Does that mean she posted her thoughts on metafilter?
posted by notmtwain at 3:20 AM on July 9, 2006


Scientific American also reported that having brothers is disruptive to academic progress.

Well, no shit.

My brother is a year and three months younger than me. All we did growing up was fuck with shit.
posted by sourwookie at 3:26 AM on July 9, 2006


I was an only child, and while I don't think I was spoiled, I'm definitely withdrawn and socially ham-handed. Two out of three ain't bad?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:48 AM on July 9, 2006


The "understanding" of children within familes seems to have moved from(a) relationship to parents to (b) birth order to (c) peer group outside the home and here to (d) birth order (e) and in each instance, we get the studies and "convincing" evidence from "authorities"--till the next new claim. Then, to add to the confusion, we are also told thatat any given time some 10% of our population will becomde addicted to something or other. And that further, playing lots of violent games or watching "bad" stuff on tv will also lead to serious problems. With all this, be grateful that there is intelligent design.
posted by Postroad at 5:01 AM on July 9, 2006


Second the fuck with shit, sourwookie.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 5:17 AM on July 9, 2006


Postroad: I'd wager that if you strip away the popular-science nonsense from each of those claims, you'd find that they're all compatiable and all true.

Truth is n-dimensional. It looks different depending on which angle you examine it from.

And often the experts can be confounded with their own data. Freud argued that we could blame it all on our parents. (Well, on an age-old dynamic with our parents, but nevermind.) Yet if you look at his own case studies, you'll find plenty of evidence for influence by members of the patients' families and peer groups.

The problem is not the data. It's how some people see the data. And in most cases, I think the problem lies less in how the researchers see the data, and more in how their readers do.
posted by lodurr at 6:03 AM on July 9, 2006


What are meta-analyses by the way? Does that mean she posted her thoughts on metafilter?

Meta-analyses are studies which do not (necessarily) conduct their own empirical research, but which rather combine the results of other studies to one conclusion. This is quite common in medicine and probably also in other fields.
posted by Herr Fahrstuhl at 6:19 AM on July 9, 2006


Freud argued that we could blame it all on our parents.

Freud's argument goes more like: Children don't have fully developed, strong egos, so they have to find ways to cope with anger, fear, drives, etc. which sometimes as adults they continue to use even though as adults they could cope with the situation in an adult way. That's what he calls a neurosis then.

Factually, many of our early-childhood experiences have to do with our parents, so it might sometimes look like psychoanalysis is about blaming the parents, but Freud didn't intend it that way. (Apart from the fact that, for a number of different reasons, psychoanalysis isn't about blaming anyone anyway.)
posted by Herr Fahrstuhl at 6:29 AM on July 9, 2006


Well, then, we can blame it on Freud's interpreters ;).
posted by lodurr at 6:33 AM on July 9, 2006


Interesting -- I'm an only child singleton, and my childhood was conspicuously devoid of fucking with shit. Must be a trend. :)

Also, I had the spoiled/withdrawn/socially ham-handed trifecta when I was little, but now I'd like to think I'm pretty normal (although perhaps still a little shy).
posted by danb at 6:57 AM on July 9, 2006


I had three much older siblings [11, 10, and 3 years my senior], and I can definitely say they had more of an impact of my personality than my parents or anyone else.
posted by yeti at 7:15 AM on July 9, 2006


I have. I'm still related to them.
posted by yeti at 7:15 AM on July 9, 2006


I was an only child, and boy, it was rough. I was constantly picking on myself, and I had to wear my own hand-me-downs.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:17 AM on July 9, 2006 [2 favorites]


I'd be curious to know how much of the so-called "singleton" attributes have to do with nurture rather than nature. I'd imagine there are less conspiculously affluent places where just because you only have one kid doesn't mean you spoil the hell out of them.

That said, I have a sibling who's six years older. We're very close now, but we hardly interacted growing up, simply because we were rarely in the same place what with different social groups, gender difference, age difference, etc. So in some ways I identify with singletons. I think she does too.
posted by bardic at 7:46 AM on July 9, 2006


Since when does "singleton" mean only child? I thought it refers to one who is not in a relationship, a la Bridget Jones's Diary.

I am an only child, and it sucks, in part because of all of the preconceptions that so many non-onlies seem to have about us "singletons."
posted by amro at 8:33 AM on July 9, 2006


It seems like most of their studies were about kids growing up together. I wonder what would be different if they did more research on larger age gaps.
I'm like bardic and yeti, only I'm the older one -- my sister is eight years younger than I am. I always felt protective/parental, but we didn't really interact a lot until she hit her teen years. Now we hang out and have a ton of fun and she's one of the most important people in my life. Others tell me that it's pretty obvious that I've had an influence on her.
But yeah, there were a lot of the perks (and drawbacks) of only-ness, too, because the gap is so big.
posted by librarina at 9:59 AM on July 9, 2006


I often wonder what effect on the national character the One Child Policy in China will have. Think of it, an entire nation of "only" children.

Apparently one of the effects is that you have two parents and four grandparents that all focus on the one child, so it gets rather spoiled. I'm too lazy to find supporting documentation but it's out there.
posted by furtive at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2006


I can identify with much of what this research shows--my brother and sister are six and four years older than I am, respectively, and my mom always said that I was as much their baby as hers--they held me, fed me, helped care for me. I even remember them teaching me to count and read!

But not much fucking with shit--that, I had to get into with my buddies from the neighborhood.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:41 AM on July 9, 2006


A singleton is a set with one member. It's a perfect analytical word for describing only children.
posted by blasdelf at 11:48 AM on July 9, 2006


I'm an only child - and the only time it was an issue was when other parents would tell my parents that they thought it was sad that I didn't have any siblings, and told mom that she really needed to have more children so I would be normal. Meanwhile all my friends with siblings would tell me that I was soooo lucky because I didn't have to share a room/toys/etc. with someone like their bratty brother/sister. Actually the only time it's ever been an issue is currently - when I wish I had a sibling to take the pressure off of "so WHEN are you having kids" questions from my mom. I have to say I was and am always fascinated by people with siblings and hearing about their relationships and how they grew up - it's just so different from my own experience that I love hearing the stories, even if they are along the lines of "yeah, we were always trying to kill each other."

Example: As a child my uncle shot my mom with an arrow and threatened to beat her up if she told their parents. She didn't - and never did tell in later years. I would have. But then I'm an only child - is that a normal sibling thing?
posted by batgrlHG at 12:11 PM on July 9, 2006


More than anything I think that being an only child gives parents a chance to mold that single child in ways that they don't have if there are several children in the home. More time and attention can be given to him/her.

Of course, this also applies to some extent in families where there are large gaps between children, and as LooseFilter points out, the older siblings may also contribute to this process if the age difference is large enough. (My father's family had 12 children, for instance. He remembered his older sisters taking care of him, rather than his mother.)

Disclaimer: I am an only child.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 12:21 PM on July 9, 2006


There has been writing done on the "little emperor" syndrome in Asian countries, especially China, where singleton males are treated like royalty, regardless of the family income bracket, since down the road they'll be expected to provide for everyone else. Daughters, however, don't have it so lucky.

I'm sure this is changing as more and more woman enter the workforce, especially the white collar workforce, and it's an interesting phenomenon to say the least, but I'd still say it doesn't prove that having one child equals spoiled solipsism, necessarily. Parents need to do their job whether they have one kid or seven, IMO. As someone not about to have kids any time soon but who'd like to, one (son or daughter) strikes me as an ideal number, if only because I could afford to send them to a private college if their grades were good enough.

(And he/she'll be much cuter and smarter than any of your kids, that's for sure.)
posted by bardic at 4:11 PM on July 9, 2006


By the time I was 10 or 12, I'd come to the conclusion that only children should never marry each other, thanks to the daily screamfests my parents (both only children) would have over things like who would get to read our 8-page local paper first. It took me another 15 years to realize that they both were just fucked up, but it didn't help that they used the "well, I'm an only child" line to excuse/explain their dysfunction. I've never really decided whether or not I think their inability to be decent parents to their own three children was due, at least in part, to having no idea what having a sibling was like.
posted by worldswalker at 5:41 PM on July 9, 2006


Huh, the first link is locked now but I think I got the gist from the second one. My brother was fully my biggest influence.
posted by serazin at 9:12 PM on July 13, 2006


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