“The practical difference between having no siblings and having one or two isn't that much in terms of divorce. But when you compare children from large families to those with only one child, there is a meaningful gap in the probability of divorce," said Doug Downey, co-author of the study and a professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.
One of the biggest surprises of the study was that it wasn't the difference between being an only child and having siblings that was significant.
"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. 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," said Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State's Marion campus.
Downey and Bobbitt-Zeher conducted the study with Joseph Merry, a graduate student at Ohio State. The study used data from the General Social Survey, which involved interviews with about 57,000 adults from across the US at 28 points between 1972 and 2012.
The results showed that each additional sibling up to about seven provided additional protection from divorce, Downey said. More siblings than that didn't provide additional protection, although they did not hurt, either.
While the study itself can't explain the protective effect of having siblings, Downey said that there are good reasons for the findings.
"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," he said.


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