Siblings are people who share at least one parent. A male sibling is called a brother; and a female sibling is called a sister. In most societies throughout the world, siblings usually grow up together and spend a good deal of their childhood socializing with one another. This genetic and physical closeness may be marked by the development of strong emotional bonds such as love or hostility. The emotional bond between siblings is often complicated and is influenced by factors such as parental treatment, birth order, personality, and personal experiences outside the family.[1]



Sibling is a modern revival of the Old English word sibling, meaning "relative, kinsman", a derivative of sibb "kinship, relationship", from Proto-Germanic *sibjō "race", from Proto-Indo-European *sebh-, *s(w)ebh- "tribe, one's own people". The term, along with its shortened form sib, may have been in use dialectally throughout the Middle English and Early Modern English periods, but was officially recognized c. 1903 when it came into common use in anthropology as a translation of the German genetics term Geschwister ("a brother or sister"). The word is further related to the second part of the word gossip, which derives from Old English gōdsibb, meaning "a sponsor, close relation".

Types of siblings

Full sibling

Full Siblings

A "full sibling" (full brother or full sister) is a sibling with whom an individual shares the same biological parents.

Half sibling

Half Siblings

A half sibling that shares the same mother (but different fathers) is known as a "uterine" sibling, whereas one that shares the same father, (but different mothers) is known as an "agnate" sibling. In law, the term consanguine is used in place of agnate. In addition, first cousins who between them have a set of parents who are identical twins, while technically not siblings, are genetically equivalent to half siblings. Half siblings can have a wide variety of interpersonal relationships, from a bond as close as any full siblings, to total strangers.

In law (and especially inheritance law) half siblings were often accorded unequal treatment. Old English common law at one time incorporated inequalities into the laws of intestate succession, with half siblings taking only half as much property of their intestate siblings' estates as other siblings of full-blood. Unequal treatment of this type has been wholly abolished in England and throughout the United States.

Other terms for half siblings would be as follows.

  • A child that has the same father but different mother is a paternal half-brother/sister.
  • A child that has the same mother but different father is a maternal half-brother/sister.

Adopted siblings are not biologically related but may consider each other siblings because they act like they are.

3/4 sibling

"3/4 siblings" are half siblings who share one parent and whose non-shared parents are full siblings. A similar situation arises when a man or a woman has children with two half siblings. 3/4 siblings share more DNA than half siblings, but less than full siblings. For example, if a man has a child with a woman and then fathers a child with her sister, the children will be 3/4 siblings. This term is more commonly used in animal breeding. A possible example was the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I of England, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and Henry Carey and Catherine Carey, the children of Mary Boleyn. Before her sister married King Henry, Mary was Henry's mistress, and he is sometimes named the father of her children. If so, Henry and Catherine would be 3/4 siblings of Elizabeth. 3/4 siblings are also in fact cousins at the same time. A present day example are Charles Lindbergh's children with his mistress Brigitte Hesshaimer, and his children with her sister, Marietta Hesshaimer.


A "stepsibling" (stepbrother or stepsister) is the child of one's stepparent from a previous or subsequent relationship.

Milk sibling

Milk brothers or sisters are children breastfed by a woman other than their biological mother, a practice known as wetnursing and once widespread in the developed world, as it still is in parts of the developing world.

In Islam those who are fed in this way become siblings to the biological children of their wetnurse, provided that they are less than 2 years old. Islamic law (shariah) codifies the relationship between these people, and certain specified relatives, as rada'a; given that a child is breastfed five fulfilling (satisfactory to him) times, once they are adult, they are mahram, meaning that they are not allowed to marry each other, and the rules of modesty known as purdah are relaxed, as with other family members. But, laws of inheritance do not apply in the case of milk siblings.


A "godsibling" (godbrother or godsister) is determined when two or more children share the same godparent. They are siblings in the eyes of God since they share the same godparents. There is a common misconception that the blood children of a godparent are godsiblings of those who were baptised by their parents.

Foster siblings

"Foster siblings" are children who are raised in the same foster home, or are also foster children of the person's parents, or foster parents' biological children.

Adoptive siblings

"Adoptive siblings" are when two children are legally related, but are not related by blood.

  • Adoptive siblings that are adopted by the same legal mother and father are considered full adoptive siblings
  • Adoptive siblings that are adopted by only the same legal mother are maternal adoptive half siblings
  • Adoptive siblings that are adopted by only the same legal father are paternal adoptive half siblings

Cross siblings

"Cross siblings" are not related in any way. Their only connection is that they share one or multiple half-siblings. For example, Michael is the maternal half sibling of Kevin, and the paternal half sibling of Eden.

Sibling cousins

"Sibling cousins" are those who have the same mother with their fathers being brothers or cousins or who share the same father with their mothers being sisters or cousins. This is a broader category than, but inclusive of, the 3/4 sibling above.

Birth order

The Benzon Daughters by Peder Severin Krøyer.

Birth order is a person's rank by age among his or her siblings. Typically, researchers classify siblings as "eldest", "middle child", and "youngest" or simply distinguish between "firstborn" and "later born" children.

Birth order is commonly believed in pop psychology and popular culture to have a profound and lasting effect on psychological development and personality. For example, firstborns are seen as conservative and high achieving, middle children as natural mediators, and youngest children as charming and outgoing. In his book Born to Rebel, Frank Sulloway argues that firstborns are more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable, and less open to new ideas compared to laterborns. Literature reviews that have examined many studies and attempted to control for confounding variables tend to find minimal effects for birth order on personality.[2][3] In her review of the scientific literature, Judith Rich Harris suggests that birth order effects may exist within the context of the family of origin, but that they are not enduring aspects of personality.[4]

Some research has found that firstborn children have slightly higher IQs on average than later born children.[5] However, other research finds no such effect.[6]

In practice, systematic birth order research is a challenge because it is difficult to control for all of the variables that are statistically related to birth order. For example, large families are generally lower in socioeconomic status than small families, so third born children are more likely than firstborn children to come from poorer families. Spacing of children, parenting style, and gender are additional variables to consider.

Regressive behavior at the birth of a new sibling

The arrival of a new baby is especially stressful for firstborns and for siblings between 3 and 5 years old. Regressive behavior and aggressive behavior, such as handling the baby roughly, can also occur. All of these symptoms are considered to be typical and developmentally appropriate for children between the ages of 3–5.[citation needed] While some can be prevented, the remainder can be improved within a few months. Regressive behavior may include demand for a bottle, thumb sucking, requests to wear diapers (even if toilet-trained), or requests to carry a security blanket.

Regressive behaviors are the child's way of demanding the parents' love and attention.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests[citation needed] that instead of protesting or telling children to act their age, parents should simply grant their requests without becoming upset. The affected children will soon return to their normal routine when they realize that they now have just as important a place in the family as the new sibling. Most of the behaviors can be improved within a few months.

The University of Michigan Health System advises[citation needed] that most occurrences of regressive behavior are mild and to be expected; however, it recommends parents to contact a pediatrician or child psychologist if the older child tries to hurt the baby, if regressive behavior does not improve within 2 or 3 months, or if the parents have other questions or concerns.

Sibling rivalry

Portrait of Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons, by Joshua Reynolds.

"Sibling rivalry" is a type of competition or animosity among brothers and sisters. It appears to be particularly intense when children are very close in age and of the same gender.[7] Sibling rivalry can involve aggression; however, it is not the same as sibling abuse where one child victimizes another.

Sibling rivalry usually starts right after, or before, the arrival of the second child. While siblings will still love each other, it is not uncommon for them to bicker and be malicious to each other.[8] Children are sensitive from the age of 1 year to differences in parental treatment and by 3 years they have a sophisticated grasp of family rules and can evaluate themselves in relation to their siblings.[1] Sibling rivalry often continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful to parents.[9] One study found that the age group 10–15 reported the highest level of competition between siblings.[10] Sibling rivalry can continue into adulthood and sibling relationships can change dramatically over the years. Approximately one-third of adults describe their relationship with siblings as rivalrous or distant. However, rivalry often lessens over time and at least 80% of siblings over age 60 enjoy close ties.[1]

Each child in a family competes to define who they are as persons and want to show that they are separate from their siblings. Sibling rivalry increases when children feel they are getting unequal amounts of their parents' attention, where there is stress in the parents' and children's lives, and where fighting is accepted by the family as a way to resolve conflicts.[9] Sigmund Freud saw the sibling relationship as an extension of the Oedipus complex, where brothers were in competition for their mother's attention and sisters for their father's.[11] Evolutionary psychologists explain sibling rivalry in terms of parental investment and kin selection: a parent is inclined to spread resources equally among all children in the family, but a child wants most of the resources for him or herself.[10]

Westermarck effect and its opposite

Anthropologist Edvard Westermarck found that children who are brought up together as siblings are desensitized to form sexual attraction to one another later in life. This is known as the Westermarck Effect. It can be seen in biological and adoptive families, but also in other situations where children are brought up in close contact, such as the Israeli kibbutz system and the Chinese Shim-pua marriage.[12][13]

The opposite phenomenon, when relatives do fall in love, is known as genetic sexual attraction. This can occur between siblings brought up apart from each other, for example, adoptees who are re-united in adulthood.

Famous sibling groups (mostly sibling bands)

The Brontë sisters, painted by their brother

See also


  1. ^ a b c Mersky Leder, Jane (Jan/Feb 1993). "Adult Sibling Rivalry". Psychology Today. Retrieved November 28, 2006. 
  2. ^ Ernst, C. & Angst, J. (1983). Birth order: Its influence on personality. Springer.
  3. ^ Jefferson, T., Herbst, J.H., & McCrae, R.R. (1998). Associations between birth order and personality traits: Evidence from self-reports and observer ratings. Journal of Research in Personality, 32, 498–509.
  4. ^ Harris, J.R. (1998). The Nurture Assumption: Why children turn out the way they do. New York: Free Press.
  5. ^ Carey, Benedict (June 21, 2007). "Family dynamics, not biology, behind higher IQ". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved July 15, 2007. 
  6. ^ Rodgers, J.L., Cleveland, H.H., van den Oord, E. and Rowe, D. (2000). Resolving the Debate Over Birth Order, Family Size and Intelligence. American Psychologist, Vol. 55.
  7. ^ The Effects of Sibling Competition Syliva B. Rimm, Educational Assessment Service, 2002.
  8. ^ New Baby Sibling University of Michigan Health System, June 2006
  9. ^ a b Sibling Rivalry University of Michigan Health System, October 2006
  10. ^ a b Sibling Rivalry in Degree and Dimensions Across the Lifespan Annie McNerney and Joy Usner, 30 April 2001.
  11. ^ Freud Lecture: Juliet Mitchell, 2003
  12. ^ Westermarck, E.A. (1921). The history of human marriage, 5th edn. London: Macmillan, 1921.
  13. ^ Arthur P. Wolf. "Childhood Association and Sexual Attraction: A Further Test of the Westermarck Hypothesis". American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Jun. 1970). pp. 503–515. Retrieved November 29, 2006. 

Sister project links

Quotations related to Siblings at Wikiquote Media related to Brothers at Wikimedia Commons Media related to Sisters at Wikimedia Commons The Wiktionary definition of sibling

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • sibling — sib ling [sub + ling.] (s[i^]b l[i^]ng), n. a brother or a sister. Note: Siblings have at least one parent in common. Those related only by a common mother are {uterine siblings}; those related only by a common father are {agnate siblings} or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sibling — sib ling (s[i^]b l[i^]ng), a. of or pertaining to a {sibling}, n.; as, sibling rivalry: the common rivalry between siblings. [PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sibling — brother or sister, 1903, modern revival (in anthropology) of O.E. sibling relative, kinsman, from sibb (adj.) kinship, relationship; love, friendship, from P.Gmc. *sebjo blood relation, relative, properly one s own (Cf. O.S. sibba, O.Fris., M.Du …   Etymology dictionary

  • sibling — is a kind of popularized technicality, a word reintroduced by anthropologists in the early 20c and useful now as a gender neutral term for ‘brother or sister’: • Small groups drifted through the classroom: mothers and fathers, large numbers of… …   Modern English usage

  • sibling — sibling. См. сибс. (Источник: «Англо русский толковый словарь генетических терминов». Арефьев В.А., Лисовенко Л.А., Москва: Изд во ВНИРО, 1995 г.) …   Молекулярная биология и генетика. Толковый словарь.

  • sibling — 1 m ( es/ as) relative, a relation, kinsman …   Old to modern English dictionary

  • sibling — ► NOUN ▪ each of two or more children or offspring having one or both parents in common; a brother or sister. ORIGIN Old English, «relative» …   English terms dictionary

  • sibling — [sib′liŋ] n. [20th c. revival of OE, a relative: see SIB & LING1] one of two or more persons born of the same parents or, sometimes, having one parent in common; brother or sister …   English World dictionary

  • sibling — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ elder, eldest, older, younger ▪ The younger children were badly treated by older siblings. ▪ adoptive ▪ female …   Collocations dictionary

  • sibling — /sib ling/, n. 1. a brother or sister. 2. Anthropol. a comember of a sib. adj. 3. of or pertaining to a brother or sister: sibling rivalry. [bef. 1000; late ME: relative, OE; see SIB, LING1] * * * ▪ sociology       typically, a brother or a… …   Universalium

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