The Sibling Effect by Jeff Kluger

The picture on the cover is actually of the author and his three siblings.


Several months ago I read an interesting article in Time Magazine on siblings by Jeffrey Kluger, a senior editor and writer at Time. I believe the article was actually an excerpt from this book, which I subsequently borrowed from our local library, because of my own interest in the topic. (The subtitle is: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us.)

As the middle of five children, three girls and two boys, I believe I have a unique position in the family. Since there are are only 7 ½ years between the oldest and the youngest of my siblings, I feel close in age to all of them.  But I know that my relationship to each of them is different from their relationship to one another. The author actually writes at length about this, using the concept of dyads or pairs of relationships in a family, creating a correlation matrix explored by psychologist Jenifer Jenkins of the University of Toronto.. For example, in a 4-sibling, 2-parent family there are 15 dyads or pairings between each of the children and their parents and each of the children to each other. (Ex. The original 9 children Kennedy clan had 55 dyads.)

The Sibling Effect confirms many of my feelings about my brothers and sisters and also challenges some of my beliefs. What I do agree with is Kluger’s statement that may books have studied the relationship between parents and children, but the relationships between and among sibs has been less scrutinized, although that seems to be changing. The author draws from dozens of researchers, psychologists, authors in the field, etc. , to explore this fascinating (to me) topic.

What I especially liked about the book is the fact that Kluger is himself one of four brothers, and in exploring and researching sibling relationships, he also reveals a great deal about his relationship with his brothers and parents, incorporating his autobiographical pages with the research he has uncovered. For example, one of his brothers is gay and he uses that as a springboard to discuss homosexuality in the family dynamic, explaining how that child may first come out to his siblings as a sounding board before approaching the parents. Another example: the author’s mother and father divorced when Kluger was quite young and he discusses how divorce impacted on him and his siblings as well as discussing the current research on the topic.

The chapters run the gamut from birth order to divorce to favoritism to twins and singletons. Since he is also a talented writer, his use of words and terms and his examples keep the book from becoming pedantic. I actually found the book quite compelling, not only because I am one of five, but also because the topics Kluger’s chooses and the way he presents the material are very engaging. He approaches the topic in both a personal way (his relationship with own siblings) and in a professional way (his in depth research.)

Whether you have siblings or are an only child (singleton), I think this book will reveal a great deal about your relationship to your sibs and/or your parents. Published in 2011 by Riverhead Books, A Division of Penguin, The Sibbling Effect costs $26.95.

P.S. I could have also posted this in my Relationships category, but since it is a book, I thought Reviews was a better choice. es

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