How Your Siblings Affect Your Health

Why your brothers and sisters may have more impact on your life than you realize.

You love them. You hate them. Whatever your relationship with your siblings, you may be surprised by how much they affect your health. In many cases, people spend more time with siblings over a lifetime than with parents or friends. And the influences these relationships have not only help shape attitudes and social skills, but also affect physical and mental health.

Here’s how:

  • They influence your behaviors. As you grow up, you’re more likely to do things your siblings do, especially if they’re older. If your older brother or sister smoke, you’re four times more likely to smoke. Younger siblings are twice as likely to drink alcohol if older siblings do so.
  • They may affect your weight. Although obesity may run in families, you’re more likely to be obese if an older sibling is obese, regardless of whether or not parents are obese. As with other behaviors like smoking or drinking, younger siblings tend to model eating and exercise habits after older brothers and sisters.
  • They may increase your odds of being happy or depressed. Close sibling relationships are often associated with higher levels of self-esteem and less loneliness. In contrast, people who grew up with distant sibling relationships are more likely to be depressed, according to research.
  • They impact your relationships. Living with siblings helps you learn how to get along with others, share and deal with conflict. People who report good relationships with their siblings in childhood tend to have better peer relationships. In fact, one study found a person’s chance of getting divorced decreased by 2% for each sibling they had.
  • They may help you live longer. Strong social ties have been shown to help people live longer, according to research. In fact, the gap in lifespan between people with strong and poor social connections is approximately the same as the gap between smokers and non-smokers – about 7 ½ years. So staying close with siblings may help you both enjoy a longer life.


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Date Last Reviewed: February 18, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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