A Gifted Child Increases Sibling Rivalry, Study Finds

Having a gifted child in the family increases sibling rivalry, a new study done by two Israeli researchers has found.

The study, which was presented at an international conference in Pamplona, Spain last month, was based on surveys of dozens of children aged 8 to 16, both from families with a gifted child and from families without. It found that in families with no gifted children, siblings reported greater feelings of mutual support: On average, children in ordinary families placed their level of mutual support at 2.7 on a scale of 1 to 4 (4 being the highest), while in families with a gifted child, siblings gave an an average grade of only 2.3 to their level of mutual support.

Asked to describe the quality they most disliked in their siblings, 18.8 percent of nongifted children with gifted siblings chose "arrogance"; only 3 percent of children without gifted siblings did so. And asked what quality in their siblings they would most like to emulate, 20.8 percent of nongifted children with gifted siblings cited their sibling's intellectual abilities, compared to only 9.1 percent of children without gifted siblings.

On the flip side, twice as many gifted children expressed envy of their "ordinary" sibling's social and athletic abilities as did children in families with no gifted siblings. Gifted children were also more likely to complain that their "ordinary" sibling received more parental attention than were children in families with no gifted siblings.

However, the survey also uncovered one exception to the overall sense of decreased mutual support in families with a gifted child: The nongifted children in these families were frequently willing to accept help in their schoolwork from a gifted younger sibling. In families with no gifted children, older siblings were generally unwilling to accept help from younger ones.

The survey, which was conducted by Dr. Zipora Oshrat and Dr. Yehudit Lapidot-Berman of the Gordon College of Education in Haifa, also identified factors that mitigated sibling rivalry in families with gifted children. One was a large age difference between the gifted and nongifted siblings. Another was gender: Children were more likely to be jealous of a sibling of the same gender than of a sibling of the opposite gender.

The gifted children used in the survey were selected from the Education Ministry's list. Every year, all third-graders in Israel are given a series of tests designed to identify gifted children; these tests result in about 1 percent of students, or some 11,500 people in 2002, being accepted into the ministry's special program for gifted children. The program allows parents to choose between two options: putting their child in a special class for gifted children, or sending him to a weekly "enrichment day." Most parents, however, choose the latter, as they fear the social consequences to their child of removing him from his regular school framework.