The study from Ohio State University Professor Douglas Downey comports with prior research he has conducted on the connection between having children and divorce rates. Professor Downey shared a copy of the paper with LifeSiteNews.
“Each additional sibling is associated with an 11 percent decline in the probability of divorce in China and a two percent decline in Europe, net a wide range of covariates,” Downey wrote in the paper with his Ohio State University peer Man Yao and Furman University’s Joseph Merry.
Merry himself published research in 2020 that found “each additional sibling was associated with a 10 percent decline in the probability of divorce,” according to the latest paper.
The authors offer several explanations for their findings.
First, they suggest that divorce and children are related to a third variable, such as religious beliefs and social conservatism. Conservative Christians, for example, may come from larger families themselves which oppose divorce and those individuals grow up to also oppose divorce.
“As one example, children in large families are often raised with more traditional values…which could then reduce the likelihood of divorce in adulthood,” the research team wrote. “Consistent with this view, [a 2020 paper] found that individuals with more siblings reported more conservative values with respect to abortion and same-sex marriage.”
This is a plausible theory, according to the researchers, but is difficult to thoroughly test. “And while indicators of religiosity and gender role attitudes capture part of this traditionalism, they may not completely account for it,” the paper states. “Attempting to identify causal relationships with observational data of sibship size has been a consistent challenge for family scholars. Instrumental variable approaches can provide more confident estimates.”
A second theory is that having a brother or sister provides skills that help reduce the risk of divorce later in life.
“A second set of explanations posits that the association is causal—that there is something about growing up with additional siblings that lowers the probability of divorce in adulthood,” the paper states. “The idea here is that growing up with siblings promotes the development of meaningful social skills and that, later in adulthood, these skills facilitate the likelihood of staying married. This notion is plausible, given the robust literature describing the importance of sibling relationships during childhood, their consequences for socioemotional development, and their long-term impacts.”
The paper concludes that it “hints at a potentially pro-social benefit of siblings—greater skill at maintaining marriage—yet if we expand our focus across later life stages, the presence of siblings may have more complex consequences.”
“Adult children negotiate several family issues with siblings, such as aiding aging parents and dividing resources once those parents are deceased,” the paper states. “These periods have the potential to bond siblings together toward a common cause or produce significant disputes, often fraught with emotional tension. Understanding how siblings matter across the entire life course would provide a more comprehensive understanding of the consequences of growing up with many versus few sisters and brothers.”