The study shows growing up with an older sister could be more beneficial than you might think.

Growing up with an older sibling could mean more than just having fond memories. According to a new study, having an older sister, in particular, could be the key to leading a more successful life. In a working paper published through the Center for Global Development, researchers found that big sisters were more likely to play and read to their toddler siblings than big brothers. And in turn, promote child development—leading the younger siblings to potentially have more success later in life, Today reports.

big sister and little sister hugging and smiling joyfully in park
Credit: Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

"We know that kids with parents who are more educated have better vocabularies and that's particularly true with a more educated mother," said Owen Ozier, the study's co-author and an associate professor of economics at Williams College. "What we see in our study is little kids with a big sister, rather than a big brother, have child development scores that make it look like their mom had several more years of schooling."

The researchers did more digging to uncover just how much of the impact older siblings can have on their younger family members—especially when parents are busy with work. They studied about 550 Kenyan households with 699 toddlers and also one older sibling between the ages of seven and 14. After surveying the parents in each home to see the activities older siblings engaged in with younger siblings—like singing and reading, which help build motor skills—the study leads found that older sisters were more engaged than older brothers.

While experts in the field noted that more research would be helpful to see if the study findings are consistent around the world, the researchers explained that older sisters have a higher likelihood of following through with their responsibilities—including looking after their siblings. "There is a literature in anthropology suggesting that well beyond our sample in Kenya, girls spend something like twice as much time as boys do on their care responsibilities," Ozier said. "Brothers, if not paying attention to younger sibs, have different chore responsibilities, for example tending to animals, and may also have more free time."


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