Why you shouldn't believe the negative research about big families

The joys of being in a big family outweigh the negatives.
The joys of being in a big family outweigh the negatives. Photo: Getty Images

Big families are wonderful, aren't they? The noise, the chaos, and always having someone to play with. And yet, a recently published study suggests there might be a downside to having lots of siblings.

Researchers used 26 years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, drawing on families' answers to questions about their children's reading and maths ability, behavioural issues and their home environment. As part of the study, they analysed how older siblings performed both before and after a younger sibling was born.

Results found that what researchers termed "parental investment" measured by factors such as how often families eat meals together, how often parents display affection and how many books each child has, fell by 3 per cent after a younger child was born. In addition, cognitive scores decreased and behaviour problems increased. The results were gender specific however, girls with younger siblings showing a decline in cognitive scores with boys more likely to display behavioural problems.  The overall amount of education received by children also lowered with each additional child.

And yet, despite the concerns raised by this study, there's still so much to love about big families. As the eldest of four children, I wouldn't trade that chaotic household for anything. And most people I know who were raised in similarly busy families, feel exactly the same way.

Here are just some of the pros of having lots of siblings:

1. You had, and still have, an immediate and compulsory friendship group.

2. There were always enough people to play backyard or street cricket. After arguing about who got to bat first and establishing that you couldn't get out first ball, the next step generally required bribing a younger sibling (or two) to field. Because no one ever wanted to field.

3.  As an older sibling, you always had others to blame for breaking things/eating things/missing items. And the more siblings you had, the less likely your parents would bother to play detective and figure out the true culprit. There was just too much effort involved.

4. Similarly, whatever crime you might have committed most recently, you could guarantee someone else would get into trouble within 24 hours and take away some of the heat.

5. If you were lucky enough to have siblings of the same sex, you had access to a much larger wardrobe. Sure, this often lead to "spirited" arguments. But being able to wear your sister's glitter jelly sandals was so worth it.


6. Christmas was always extra fun with younger brothers and sisters, the Santa myth existing for far longer. It did, however, mean being woken at 5am by the aforementioned excited younger siblings. Not quite as fun…

7.  Having younger brothers and sisters to dress up and to try out hair and makeup styles was also a complete big-family bonus. There are some great pictures of my youngest brother with 80s style clip-on earrings, bright pink lipstick and a chunk missing from his fringe after my sister gave him a "make over." Good times. And great 21st birthday fodder.

8. And having older sisters to do your hair and makeup for special occasions was pretty handy, too.

9. As a younger sibling, if you chose your high school subjects strategically, you'd end up with access to quite the collection of study notes, essays and assignments. So of course you chose your subjects strategically.

10. When you start having children, your kids automatically get doting aunts and uncles who spoil them rotten. And an army of babysitters (if you're extra fortunate). It can also mean your little ones end up with lots of cousins!

11. As adults, family dinners are always a party. When you add partners to the mix and children running around, they're chaotic and noisy and oh-so fun.

12. Friends come and go. But if you're lucky, siblings are mates for life. There aren't too many other people you can call to pick you up at 1am, no questions asked. And, the more siblings you have, the higher the chance at least one of them owes you a favour.

13. As you get older and life throws up its inevitable challenges, having lots of siblings to help you through the tough times, through losing grandparents and moving homes, breakups, job losses and caring for your parents, is truly a gift. And something to be thankful for.

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