Growing Up With Fewer Siblings Linked to Greater Wealth in
Adulthood (August 2003)
For Immediate Release
August 21, 2003
Contact: Lisa A.
The Ohio State
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
"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
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