Sibling Comparison of Differential Parental Treatment in Adolescence: Gender, Self-Esteem, and Emotionality as Mediators of the Parenting-Adjustment Association



This study employs findings from social comparison research to investigate adolescents' comparisons with siblings with regard to parental treatment. The sibling comparison hypothesis was tested on a sample of 516 two-child families by examining whether gender, self-esteem, and emotionality — which have been found in previous research to moderate social comparison — also moderate sibling comparison as reflected by siblings' own evaluations of differential parental treatment. Results supported a moderating effect for self-esteem and emotionality but not gender. The sibling comparison process was further examined by using a structural equation model in which parenting toward each child was associated with the adjustment of that child and of the child's sibling. Evidence of the “sibling barricade” effect — that is, parenting toward one child being linked with opposite results on the child's sibling as on the target child — was found in a limited number of cases and interpreted as reflecting a sibling comparison process. For older siblings, emotionality and self-esteem moderated the sibling barricade effect but in the opposite direction as predicted. Results are discussed in terms of older siblings' increased sensitivity to parenting as well as the report of differential parenting reflecting the child's level of comfort and benign understanding of differential parenting, which buffers the child against environmental vicissitudes evoking sibling comparison processes.