Older brothers really ARE the biggest bullies

Older brothers really ARE the biggest bullies: Study of 6,838 children backs up what younger siblings always suspected (and it’s worse in larger families)

  • Sibling bullying had impacted on the mental health of the bully and bullied
  • First-born males were much more likely to be bullies than female counterparts
  • Psychological bullying was the most common form of bullying observed  
  • Family traits including parenting effectiveness could dictate early aggression 
  • Parents and health professionals need to take sibling bullying more seriously

If you grew up being terrorised by an older brother, you are not alone.

Big brothers really are the biggest bullies, particularly for those in larger families.

A study has found when it comes to sibling name-calling, teasing and other types of mean behaviour, older boys tend to be the perpetrators.

Girls are more likely to be targeted by their siblings, especially if they are the babies of the family. 

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If you grew up being terrorised by an older brother, you are not alone. Big brothers really are the biggest bullies, particularly for those in larger families. A study has found when it comes to sibling name-calling, teasing and other types of mean behaviour, older boys tend to be the perpetrators (stock image) 

Psychologists at the University of Warwick tracked the family dynamics of 6,838 British siblings up until the age 12.

They found firstborn children and older brothers are the most likely to pick on others in their family, and jealousy about having to share may be the reason why.

Dr Dieter Wolke, who led the study from the psychology department at the university, said: ‘Despite our cultural differences, humans are still very biologically driven. 

‘A firstborn child will have their resources halved with the birth of a sibling, and even more so as more siblings are added to the family.

‘This causes siblings to fight for those limited resources through dominance.’ 


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Sibling bullying is usually psychological, most often involving name-calling. But hitting, kicking, pushing or shoving is also a popular tactic, along with making fun of other family members.

Just over seven per cent of siblings are bullies, the study found, while almost one in 10 are victims of sibling bullying.

But most children give as good as they get, making them both bullies and victims in their family, and children’s bad behaviour tends to start at around the age of eight.

Boys are the biggest bullies, being 69 per cent more likely to pick on their siblings, and older children are more than twice as likely to be bullies too. 

These facts taken together mean children unlucky enough to have an older brother see their risk of being bullied rise by three-quarters.

Psychologists at the University of Warwick tracked the family dynamics of 6,838 British siblings up until the age 12. They found firstborn children and older brothers are the most likely to pick on others in their family, and jealousy about having to share may be the reason why. Girls are more likely to be targeted by their siblings, especially if they are the babies of the family (stock image)

The best advice for a peaceful household is to have fewer brothers and sisters. Firstborn children with two or more siblings are 30 per cent more likely to be bullies, according to the findings. 

Dr Wolke said: ‘Bullying occurs in situations where we cannot choose our peers, like in families. Siblings live in close quarters and the familiarity allows them to know what buttons to press to upset their brothers or sisters.

‘This can go both ways and allows a child to be both a victim and a perpetrator of bullying.’ Mothers reported how often their children were victims or perpetrators of bullying at the age of five. Children then provided the same information, on bullying that had happened in the previous six months, when they were 12.

It made no difference to sibling bullying levels if children came from a higher class or had a single parent. But children with higher self-esteem were less likely to be bullied.

The study concludes: ‘Findings from this study suggest that sibling bullying is utilised as an evolutionarily driven strategy toward maintaining or achieving social dominance.’

 The full findings are published in Developmental Psychology. 

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