Being an Only Child Won't Harm Social Skills: Study

Boys and girls who grow up without siblings are no less capable of developing good social skills than those raised with brothers and sisters, new research indicates. The observations stem from an analysis involving more than 13,000 middle school and high school students conducted by a team of researchers at Ohio State University. "I don't think anyone has to be concerned that if you don't have siblings, you won't learn the social skills you need to get along with other students in high school," study co-author Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, an assistant professor of sociology on OSU's Marion campus, said in a news release from the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Together with OSU colleague Douglas Downey, Bobbit-Zeher is slated to present the findings Monday at the ASA annual meeting in Atlanta. Interest in the question of how siblings might affect socialization skills has been growing in recent years, the authors noted, with an earlier study by Downey suggesting that kindergarten aged kids fare better if they grow up with siblings. "As family sizes get smaller in industrialized countries, there is concern about what it might mean for society as more children grow up without brothers and sisters," Bobbit-Zeher said. "The fear is that they may be losing something by not learning social skills through interacting with siblings."

The current effort used interview data collected by the National Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health) that concerned children in grades 7 through 12 who were enrolled at more than 100 schools across the United States between 1994 and 1995. The interviews were used to assess popularity by asking the kids to list up to five male and five female friends, and then tallying the number of "votes" each participant got overall. The authors found that students were "nominated" an average of five times by their peers, and that voting was not influenced by the presence of siblings, irrespective of gender or whether sibling status (full, step, half, or adopted). Parental age, race and socio-economic status also appeared to have no impact on the question of siblings and social skill development.
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