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Growing Up With Fewer Siblings Linked to Greater Wealth in Adulthood (August 2003)

For Immediate Release
August 21, 2003
Contact: Lisa A. Keister
The Ohio State University

Recent findings could add new fuel to age-old sibling rivalries.

Children from larger families accumulate less wealth in adulthood than do those from smaller families, according to a study of adults in their late 30s and early 40s published in the current issue of the journal Demography.

On average, individuals from "only child" families were the wealthiest in adulthood, and wealth declined steadily with each additional child in the family, reports Lisa Keister, an Ohio State University sociologist.

"Family size matters: Siblings dilute the finite amount of money and time parents can devote to each child, " explained Keister. "Having fewer resources limits educational attainment, and reduces financial transfers from parents to children such as help with tuition, a down payment on a house or inheritances."

She found that individuals from larger families were less likely to own either a home or stocks as adults and also less likely to receive a trust fund or an inheritance.

"Inherited wealth, even a small amount of it, can open doors to higher education and higher paying jobs, reduce the need to acquire debt such as for school loans, and lead to investment and greater accumulated wealth in adulthood."

Keister based her analysis on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which regularly interviewed a nationally representative set of about 10,000 young people between 1979 and 2000. The respondents were born between 1957 and 1964 and were ages 35 to 43 in 2000.

She found that median net worth (assets minus debts) averaged $62,000 for only children and declined steeply based on family size. On average, net worth totaled $49,000 for individuals who grew up in two-child families, $40,000 for those from three-child families, and continued to shrink as the number of children grew: four ($24,000), five ($17,000), six ($15,000), and seven or more ($6,000).

Growing up in a family of four or more children seemed to put a person at a greater economic disadvantage, she noted.

Respondents with college or professional degrees accumulated more wealth overall, she found, "but even those with advanced degrees accumulate considerably less total wealth, if they are from larger, rather than smaller, families."

Median net worth for college graduates from only child households totaled $140,000. By comparison, net worth averaged $133,000 for those from two child households and dropped steadily from there: three children ($119,000), four children ($111,000), five children ($80,000), six children ($47,000) and seven or more ($38,000).

"Having wealthy parents, earning a college degree, and buying stock all increased an individual's changes of being wealthier than average in adulthood," she said. "But those from smaller families still had more of an advantage."

The research was supported by the American Sociological Association and Ohio State University. Demography is the peer-reviewed journal published by the Population Association of America.

The full article, "Sharing the Wealth: The Effect of Siblings on Adults' Wealth Ownership" is available on www.prb.org/cpipr. Or call the Center for Public Information on Population Research, 202-939-5414. The Center, a project of the Population Reference Bureau, is funded by the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development.

Copyright 2003, Population Reference Bureau. All rights reserved.
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