The Sibling Effect

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Time science writer, Jeffrey Kluger looks at the bonds between siblings. In The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal about Us, Kluger explores the complex world of siblings in a way that is equal parts science, psychology, sociology, and memoir. Based on new and emerging research, it looks at birth order, twin studies, genetic encoding of behavioral traits, emotional disorders and their effects on-and effects from-sibling relationships.


Jeffrey Kluger

Comments [27]

Leslie from New York, NY

I don't think birth order can neatly categorize people (although it does help sometimes). I am a classic oldest child, but my younger sister (there were only the two of us) came out of the womb swinging, to quote my mom. I think birth order definitely contributes to who you are, but there are just innate personality traits that are hard to fight. I love my sister, of course, but she made my life totally miserable when we were children because she was always trying to physically fight and I worried about her a lot as an adult. I envy those who are close with their siblings (although I find those people to be the minority), but I'm having an only child because I don't think I have the strength to parent if I have a child like my sibling.

Sep. 25 2011 07:45 PM
d from NYC

Heather WK -- I don't know if you will see this comment since the show segment was on 9/20 (It's now 9/21), but I wanted to reach out to you in case you do:

1. The Safe Place meetings held by the Samaritans provide peer support groups which were the most helpful thing to me when I lost my brother to suicide almost 9 years ago. I cannot emphasize enough how much these groups helped me. Google Samaritans NYC and you will get information.
2. An Empty Chair is a book written about the loss of a sibling by suicide. I did not read it, but I've heard of it.
3. AFSP (American Foundation of Suicide Prevention) has a service where you can visit with someone who also experienced a loss by suicide. The visitation is not to build a continuing connection but to point you to resources. They have other resources on their website --

Maybe some of these resources will be helpful to you.

Sep. 21 2011 04:19 PM
SJ from New Jersey

Wondering if sibling traits are innate? I was adopted at birth, was born a first child, but raised as a second child. I have found that I have many traits of a first born, despite being raised as a second born.

Sep. 20 2011 12:46 PM
Peter Archer from Fairfield, CT

I am a middle child with an older brother and younger sister. However I lost my older brother to severe mental illness during my adolescence. I've always thought that this put me in the position of having to be both older and younger sibling, having to take over the functions of the older brother in his absence. Any opinion on that?

Sep. 20 2011 12:44 PM
Mike from Tribeca

Interesting interview, though I felt a large "publish or perish" vibe during it.

Sep. 20 2011 12:41 PM
mp from Brooklyn

To Ruth - my son is mad that he does NOT have a little sister - you can't win!

Sep. 20 2011 12:37 PM
Marion Lane from nyc

How about twins/

Sep. 20 2011 12:35 PM

I have a son, 12 and daughter 8. It seems that my son is mad since he was a little boy that he has a younger sister. Wishes he was the only child, my daughter loves her older brother. I'm wondering if it would be the same if a girl was the first child or if they were the same sex.

Sep. 20 2011 12:34 PM
Alexander from Manhattan

Following up on Tatiana from Brooklyn, what about siblings that 11 years apart?

Sep. 20 2011 12:33 PM
ellen from Manhattan

Did your guest happen to read "Mom Still Likes You Best," by Jane Isay (mother of David Isay). If so, what did he gain from it?


Sep. 20 2011 12:32 PM
Liza Donnelly from New York, NY

What can you say about siblings where one is adopted and one is birth child? How does this effect the dynamic?

Sep. 20 2011 12:30 PM
Alexander from Manhattan

Following up on Tatiana from Brooklyn, what about siblings that 11 years apart?

Sep. 20 2011 12:29 PM
mp from Brooklyn

Thank you! I feel so much better now.

Sep. 20 2011 12:29 PM

Any advice for families with only 2 siblings?

Sep. 20 2011 12:27 PM
Sue from NYC

My mother recently died. I have two brothers.
1 brother wrote a damaging email to the other. Now one refuses to EVER speak to the other UNLESS at a funeral and insists I be the intermediary forever. The hopsice people had told me it was common for siblings to become entangled - not get along with one another while a parent is chronically ill. Now she has passed and I am left with yet 'their' drama problems between one another.
Any ideas?
I will buy your book for myself and the brothers...

Sep. 20 2011 12:27 PM
Ro from Manhattan

Growing up in a dysfunctional or alcoholic family makes for a much more complicated problem.

And that has to be a LARGE percentage of the population.

Can you speak to this?

Sep. 20 2011 12:26 PM
mp from Brooklyn

Have you done any research on the group dynamic in which some siblings "gang up" on another one, even into adulthood?

Sep. 20 2011 12:25 PM

I recently lost my brother to suicide. It is interesting (and disappointing) to me that people are always asking me how others are doing with his death (former spouse, my parents) but they never seem to ask ME how I am doing. I feel like nothing addresses the heartbreaking loss of a sibling. While I am an adult with my own loving family and supportive friends, I still feel somewhat alone in the universe now that my brother is gone.

Sep. 20 2011 12:25 PM
The Truth from Becky

Wait, what? Are we going to break this down by race also? Et Tu Brute? Everyone knows the familial bond is very strong in the Black community....knock if off with those ridiculous statistics!

Sep. 20 2011 12:25 PM
V from Bronx

I am the youngest of 7 boys. I always said I have 7 fathers and one saintly mother.

Sep. 20 2011 12:21 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

My daughter is an only child. I think she's very well adjusted. Having siblings does NOT make you more socialized.

And what about siblings that fight constantly--what's the joy in that for a family?

Sep. 20 2011 12:19 PM
Kerry from Austin, TX

I have 7 brothers and sisters--what does birth order have to say about giant families? I see many sub-groupings in my own family...I'm sometimes the youngest, and sometimes the oldest and sometimes in the middle depending on the group of siblings.

Sep. 20 2011 12:18 PM
Tatiana from Brooklyn

What about siblings with several years between them? There are 7 and 8 years between myself and my younger siblings.

Sep. 20 2011 12:16 PM
MP from Brooklyn

From a guilt-ridden mother of an only child - please say something positive about onlies!

Sep. 20 2011 12:15 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Yeah social sciences. far I'm not buying any of his descriptions.

Sep. 20 2011 12:14 PM

is there any truth to the last sibling in order is the most selfish, the middle born being the most neglected and the first born has it the hardest growing up?

Sep. 20 2011 12:13 PM
Sebastian from Manhattan Valley

What's the implication for China where very few people have siblings?

Sep. 20 2011 12:10 PM

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