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Does Living with a Step- or Half-Sibling Make Children More Aggressive?

A recent study found that children who live with step- or half-siblings are more likely to behave aggressively than kids who don't. We got in touch with the lead researcher to figure out why.
April 2, 2016, 1:30pm

Image via Flickr user Tiffany Terry

A lot of people in America get divorced, so it's no surprise that there are a lot of "complex families" in this country. According to a new study, roughly one in six children live with a step- or half-sibling before kindergarten. While pop culture likes to portray or even stigmatize step-kids as bullies (see Sixteen Candles, Cruel Intentions, etc.), recent research may suggest that the silver screen isn't just perpetuating stereotypes.

In an article published in the February edition of journal Demography, sociologists found that children who live with step- or half-siblings are more likely to behave aggressively than kids who don't. Led by sociologist Paula Fomby from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the study utilized data from a large project called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, including observational research conducted on approximately 6,500 kids at multiple stages before entering primary school. Fomby and her team took the information with the aim of analyzing whether living with complex siblings at age four could predict behavior at age five. And they found that, on average, they are more aggressive, with step- or half-siblings scoring ten percent higher than their counterparts in personality tests measuring aggressive behavior.

Whereas past studies on complex families have focused on children in relation to their biological or step parents, this research shifted the lens to focus on sibling relationships. But while Fomby and the other sociologist noticed a clear correlation, the reasons as to why young kids with complex siblings behave more aggressively remained elusive. We spoke with the sociologist to discuss her findings and ask if living with step-siblings at a pivotal age can actually predict how kids will act in the future.