The Ties of Later Life: Aging Siblings

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The study sought to investigate whether aging siblings (ages 60–91) have expectations of social support from their brothers and sisters. Social support includes emotional (expressive) and tangible (instrumental) assistance. One hundred, noninstitutionalized older adults with at least one older sibling volunteered to respond to the survey. The respondents were drawn from several YMCAs in Knoxville, Tennessee, that sponsor Silver Sneakers, a senior athletic program. Factors mediating family solidarity included frequency of association, quality of affection, degree of exchange of services, and level of filial obligations. These variables provided the context for the development of an instrument for the determination of older sibling ties. Contrary to the hypothesis that female siblings would share affectual solidarity, the opposite was true. The study revealed that older female siblings rarely expect and receive expressive support from one another. Neither expects nor receives instrumental support, mostly attributed to distance. However, regardless of the lack of either expressive or instrumental support, older siblings responded that they thought the relationship was very important (74%); they felt close to their female sibling (53%); and, 60% wanted the same level of contact while 39% sought even greater contact. The behavioral reality of older sibling relations suggests that family ties, regardless of actual contact or provision of helping activities, remains strong.