Differential Treatment of Siblings in Two Family Contexts


  • The authors would like to thank Wendy Gamble and Vicki Harris for their help in conducting this research and Ann Crouter and Robert Plomin for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We also are very grateful to the families who participated in the study. Funding was provided by the March of Dimes Foundation.

Request for reprints may be sent to Susan M. McHale, College of Health and Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802.


We examined differential treatment of siblings (maternal involvement, discipline, children's chores) in 2 contexts: families with and without a disabled child. Further, we assessed the connections between differential treatment and both children's adjustment and sibling relationships. Subjects were 62 children, 8–14 years old, half with younger disabled siblings and half with younger nondisabled siblings. In home interviews children rated their adjustment and sibling relations, and mothers reported on discipline strategies used with each child. In 7 nightly phone interviews, mothers recalled durations of specific activities with each child and each child's chores during that day. Analyses revealed greater levels of differential treatment in families with disabled children but no context differences in the correlations between older and younger siblings' treatment. Dimensions of differential treatment were linked to children's adjustment and sibling relationships, and some of these links differed across context.