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Siblings and childhood mental health: Evidence for a later-born advantage

Lawson, DW; Mace, R; (2010) Siblings and childhood mental health: Evidence for a later-born advantage. SOC SCI MED , 70 (12) 2061 - 2069. 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.03.009.

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The social and health sciences have often emphasised the negative impacts of large sibship size and late birth order on childhood. For example, it is now well established that, other things being equal, children in large families and/or with many older siblings, receive lower allocations of care time from both parents, are more likely to grow up in conditions of economic hardship, and, as a likely consequence, exhibit relatively poor educational and physical health outcomes. Few researchers have, however, quantitatively assessed how siblings may influence indicators of mental health, where it is conceivable that social interactions with siblings may have a positive influence. Here, using data from a large British cohort survey (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children), we explored the effects of sibling configuration on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, as a multidimensional index for mental health problems. We demonstrate a significant socio-economic gradient in mental health between the ages of three and nine years, but little evidence for negative effects of large sibship size. Rerunning this analysis to examine birth order, a much clearer pattern emerged; the presence of older siblings was associated with relatively good mental health, while the presence of younger siblings was associated with relatively poor mental health. This suggests that being born into a large family, providing the child is not joined by subsequent siblings, may carry important benefits unconsidered by past research. We discuss possible interpretations of this pattern and the wider implications for understanding the family context of child development. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Type: Article
Title: Siblings and childhood mental health: Evidence for a later-born advantage
DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.03.009
Keywords: Parental investment, Sibling competition, Birth order, Childhood mental health, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), UK, BRITISH BIRTH COHORT, DIFFICULTIES QUESTIONNAIRE, PARENTAL CARE, FAMILY, ORDER, STRENGTHS, CHILDREN, TIME, CONFIGURATION, INTELLIGENCE
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/315842
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