Understanding Sibling Jealousy During Emerging Adulthood: Measurement Development And Implications

Meghan K Loeser, Purdue University


Jealousy is an emotional response that is experienced across all relationships and throughout the life course, presenting itself in a variety of contexts and manners. Feelings of jealousy may have implications for individuals and the relationships they have with others, and particularly, their siblings. As such, using a mixed-methods approach, this dissertation sought to identify the nature and correlates of sibling jealousy during the period of emerging adulthood. A series of studies were conducted, each building on the previous, addressing critical aspects about sibling jealousy and its connections to individual and relational adjustment during emerging adulthood. First, a qualitative study investigated how jealousy manifested between siblings during emerging adulthood and what the implications were for these emerging adults. Results provided a detailed look at jealousy and the relational experiences of emerging adult siblings more broadly. Several themes were identified, including: (a) the nature and dimensions of jealousy; (b) potential causes of jealousy like parental differential treatment and social comparisons; (c) and sibling relationship qualities. Moreover, the results informed the development of a quantitative measure of sibling jealousy that was used in subsequent studies. The second study extended the qualitative findings from study one through developing, implementing, and assessing the psychometric properties of a new measure of sibling jealousy specific to the period of emerging adulthood. To date, previous measures of (sibling) jealousy had demonstrated limitations in design and application. Using the themes from study one, a total of 52 items were developed addressing sibling jealousy and then implemented using a sample of 476 young adults recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk. Following an iterative approach, results from a series of exploratory factor analyses ultimately identified a two-factor structure: my feelings of jealousy toward my sibling and my sibling’s feelings of jealousy toward me. Results from a subsequent confirmatory factor analysis documented that the structures obtained were maintained. Further, additional constructs were tested to obtain internal consistency (i.e., PDT, sibling relationship quality, basic emotions), with results demonstrating adequate convergent validity with most of the constructs being in the expected direction. To further confirm the factor structure of the measure obtained in study two as well as identify potential correlates associated with sibling jealousy during emerging adulthood, in the third and final study, the sibling jealousy measure was assessed again using a new sample of 500 participants. Findings suggested that overall factor structure was invariant across samples, and the factor, my feelings of jealousy toward my sibling, demonstrated adequate convergent and construct validity. Sibling jealousy was then assessed as the missing link between the effects of PDT and social comparisons on individual and relational adjustment, using structural equation modeling. Several significant direct and indirect effects were identified. Interestingly, feelings of jealousy appeared to be more strongly associated with social comparison orientations, and particularly upward comparisons, whereby individuals felt their sibling was better off than themselves, compared with reports of parental differential treatment. These findings suggest that individuals that as individuals work to develop their identities and focus on personal relationships during emerging adulthood, direct comparisons of personal qualities and abilities may be particularly important predictors of jealousy. Parents continued to remain a presence in the lives of emerging adults; however, they did not appear to play as strong a role in influencing feelings of jealousy, and in turn, behavioral adjustment. Together, these studies helped illuminate the experience of jealousy and clarify the links between cognitions (e.g., PDT, social comparisons), affects (e.g., jealousy), and behaviors (e.g., depressive symptoms, risk-taking, sibling relationship qualities, communication patterns). In fact, results from this study demonstrated the continual nature of jealous feelings. Although not a longitudinal study, findings suggested that feelings of jealousy continued to exist during emerging adulthood, indicating that despite transitioning outside of the home, young adults continue to experience these complex feelings with their siblings. Future studies would benefit from continuing to research sibling jealousy, as well as sibling relationships more generally, during emerging adulthood. Given jealousy was not a significant linking mechanism for several constructs it may be beneficial for future research to identify the underlying processes that connect family processes to individual outcomes in order to determine appropriate points of intervention for aiding families with these sometimes problematic experiences. Further, future research can adapt this newly developed measure to a variety of groups and scenarios, including those that exist within a workplace (e.g., superior and subordinate relationships) to determine the implications of feelings of jealousy more broadly.




Shields, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social research

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