Researchers have found that children who whine about their siblings may have good reason to complain. The more siblings adolescents have, the more their happiness is allegedly affected.
A study of middle school children in the US and China found that those from large families had worse mental health than those from small families.
The largest impact was seen in families with more than one child born less than a year apart.
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Doug Downey, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University, said that previous studies in this area have shown a mixed picture for children with more siblings.
The researchers asked 9,100 eighth graders in the US and 9,400 eighth graders in China, with an average age of 14, questions about their mental health.
In China, young people with no siblings had the best mental health outcomes. In the US, children with no siblings and those with only one sibling were found to have similar mental health.
GREATER IMPACT ON SIBLINGS CLOSER IN AGE
It was found that the more siblings young people have, the worse their mental health is, with particularly large effects when brothers and sisters are close in age.
“If you think of parents as a cake, being an only child means you get the whole cake,” Downey said. But when you add more siblings, children may get less attention from their parents and that affects their mental health.”
Researchers believe this is supported by the fact that young people with siblings of the same age are worse off. The young people with the best mental health came from families with the highest socioeconomic advantages.
In the US, these were often families with only one or two children. In China there were families with one child.
In line with China’s one-child policy, about one-third of Chinese children are only children, compared to 12.6 percent of US children.
Previous studies suggest positive effects linked to siblings, which presents a complex picture.
Children with more siblings were found to get along better with others in kindergarten and were less likely to divorce. This is presumably because they already have experience in building close relationships.