School & District Management

Study: Do Opposite-Sex Siblings Hamper Education?

By Linda Jacobson — October 11, 2000 1 min read

Children with siblings of the opposite sex may not reach educational levels as high as they would have had their siblings been of the same sex, a study suggests.

According to the study by Dalton Conley, an associate professor of sociology at New York University, “men are most disadvantaged by the presence of siblings when they have sisters, while women’s educational attainment is hurt more by brothers.”

Specifically, Mr. Conley found that each additional brother reduces the average woman’s attainment by one-tenth of a year of education, while each additional sister hurts a woman’s educational attainment by only six- hundredths of a year.

The pattern is similar for men. Each brother reduced educational attainment by about one-tenth of a year, while each sister reduced the educational level by about one-sixth of a year.

Mr. Conley based his research on the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative sample of 7,573 adults between the ages of 25 and 65. All of them had at least one sibling.

Past research on how siblings affect educational outcomes have produced mixed results. One study found that women raised with brothers did better than those raised with sisters. Another researcher found that for both male and female African-Americans, having more sisters was correlated with higher educational attainment.

Explanations Offered

Mr. Conley offers a few possible explanations for his findings. First, he suggests that having same-sex siblings may create a “competitive, achievement-oriented environment” within the home, while having siblings of the opposite sex may create a “more sociable, less aggressive environment.”

Second, children who are in the gender minority may not learn to behave the way they are expected to at school. “In other words,” Mr. Conley writes, “there may be a mismatch between the skills that are socialized into a boy or a girl at home and the role expectations placed upon that individual by teachers and peers at school.”

He speculates that such children may receive less “gender-specific attention” to their needs than those who are part of the majority in their households.

The author says his study, which appeared in the September issue of the journal Social Science Research, should not be the final word on the topic.

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