Siblinghood in Old Age: From an Ego-centric Network approach

Jing-Yi Wang


Brothers and sisters can be the family members whom people share the most time of life with, and there are less responsibilities between siblings than between intergenerational family members. The existing theory suggests that the attachment between siblings is built in the early age, which provides them emotional support and can be transformed into practical or financial supports when facing stressful environments in different stages of life (Voorpostel & Blieszner, 2008). My research aims to investigate siblings’ roles in older Europeans’ life from network perspective. What factors are related to the inclusion of siblings in the network, and how do these factors relate to the contact frequency and emotional closeness with siblings? In general, siblings were hardly singled out to be examined their role in older people’s network. The existing studies already showed people who are never married or divorced are more likely to have sibling in the network, as these siblings are the people who give them support and help. Therefore, I hypothesise that from the compensatory perspective, the less family members in the network, the more likely they have siblings in the network. Moreover, they are more likely to have frequent contact with respondents. Alternatively, from the complementary perspective, I suggest for people who have more family members in the network, they are more likely to have siblings in their network, because they have connections with other family members. As a complementary role, siblings are not contacted as frequent as other alters, especially partners and children. These questions and hypotheses are investigated with Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) wave 6 data set, which includes an egocentric network module. The interactions across different households are hardly researched because of the emphasis of nuclear family in the traditional family research design. But the features of egocentric network analysis, which collects information of an individual (an ego)’s characteristics and their important others (alters) from the ego’s perspective, could provide an angle to look at the pattern of resources exchange beyond a household boundary. Hence, it is helpful to use egocentric network to examine the relations between siblings, as they usually do not live in the same household. The current findings show that: First, siblings are the fourth largest group of all network ties for older Europeans, less than children, partner, and friends. Second, siblings are more likely to be included when people are single or divorced, but not when respondents are widowed. Third, the more close kin ties in the network, the less likely to have a sibling in the network, which supports the compensatory perspective. However, for the respondents who mentioned their parents in their network, the likelihood of having a sibling is higher in the network, which means parents could be the important reason for the existence of the relationships between siblings in old age, showing that the existence of some roles is helpful for maintaining the sibling relations.

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