Using age difference and sex similarity to detect evidence of sibling influence on criminal offending
Psychological Medicine, 52:10, 1892–1900 (2022)
Background: Sibling resemblance in crime may be due to genetic relatedness, shared environment, and/or the interpersonal influence of siblings on each other. This latter process can be understood as a type of ‘peer effect’ in that it is based on social learning between individuals occupying the same status in the social system (family). Building on prior research, we hypothesized that sibling pairs that resemble peer relationships the most, i.e., same-sex siblings close in age, exhibit the most sibling resemblance in crime.
Methods: Drawing on administrative microdata covering Finnish children born in 1985–97, we examined 213 911 sibling pairs, observing the recorded criminality of each sibling between ages 11 and 20. We estimated multivariate regression models controlling for individual and family characteristics, and employed fixed-effects models to analyze the temporal co-occurrence of sibling delinquency.
Results: Among younger siblings with a criminal older sibling, the adjusted prevalence estimates of criminal offending decreased from 32 to 25% as the age differences increased from less than 13 months to 25–28 months. The prevalence leveled off at 23% when age difference reached 37–40 months or more. These effects were statistically significant only among same-sex sibling pairs (p < 0.001), with clear evidence of contemporaneous offending among siblings with minimal age difference.
Conclusions: Same-sex siblings very close in age stand out as having the highest sibling resemblance in crime. This finding suggests that a meaningful share of sibling similarity in criminal offending is due to a process akin to peer influence, typically flowing from the older to the younger sibling.