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Calling all brothers and sisters

Just over half of UK households have at least one child, and just under a quarter having three or more children, including step- or half-siblings. Siblings can provide a huge amount of support for each other as they grow up ranging from playmates to emotional support to protection from bullies. But this relationship is equally important in later life. For example, when widowed sisters decide to live together again; or siblings come back together when their parents die. But siblings can also become jealous of each other and may develop lifelong resentments.

As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, researchers are inviting the public to help collect evidence on the role siblings play in people’s lives. Researchers from The Open University and London South Bank University are gathering evidence to better explain our relationships with brothers, sisters or people who are ‘just like a brother or sister.’ The resulting research will help to shed light on sibling relationships that often last throughout our lives and so help the work of family therapists, social workers and many more.

Participation in the research is simple. People of all ages are asked to anonymously complete a postcard with the gender and age of themselves and any siblings, plus any notes about these relationships. Postcards will be available in 20 locations around the UK during the ESRC Festival of Social Science from 7th to 16th March. People can also complete the card online at

The researchers from The Open University and London South Bank University will electronically archive all submissions and make them available for social science research. “We hope the postcards will provide us with some raw material to better understand sibling relationships,” says Professor Ros Edwards of London South Bank University. “Such insights are invaluable for the work of family therapists, social workers, health visitors and many more.”

People’s relationships with brothers and sisters can be one of the longest lasting relationships of their lives. Yet after childhood, we know little about how these relationships develop in adulthood. “The postcards will hopefully uncover some neglected issues and provide supportive evidence in the development of good quality research,” comments Dr Bill Bytheway of The Open University.

The researchers are part of the 'Timescapes' study which explores the ways in which personal and family relationships unfold over time and over the life course, and how those relationships shape who we are. The focus is on relationships with significant others: parents, grandparents, siblings, children, partners, friends and lovers.

The ESRC Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council to celebrate some of the country’s leading social science research, giving an exciting opportunity to show everyone what the UK’s social scientists are doing and demonstrating how their work makes a difference to all our lives.

Danielle Moore | alfa
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