Siblings and children’s time use in the United States

Background: Eighty-two percent of children under age 18 live with at least one sibling, and the sibling relationship is typically the longest-lasting family relationship in an individual's life. Nevertheless, siblings remain understudied in the family demography literature.

Objective: We ask how having a sibling structures children's time spent with others and in specific activities, and how children's time and activities with siblings vary by social class, gender, and age.

Methods: We use time diary data from the US Panel Study of Income Dynamics' Child Development Supplement (PSID-CDS), comparing the time use of children with and without siblings and presenting regression-adjusted descriptive statistics on patterns among those with siblings.

Results: Children with siblings spend about half of their discretionary time engaged with siblings. They spend less time alone with parents and more time in unstructured play than those without siblings. Brothers and more closely spaced siblings spend more time together and more time in unstructured play. For example, boys with at least one brother spend five more hours per week with their siblings and over three more hours per week in unstructured play than boys with no brothers.

Conclusions: The presence and characteristics of siblings shape children's time use in ways that may have implications for child development.