The number of older siblings a child has is negatively correlated with the child's verbal skills, an effect that is well known in the literature. However, few studies have examined the effect of older siblings’ sex, of the age gap between siblings, of having foreign-speaking parents, as well as the mediating role of parental interaction. Using data from 12,296 children (49.3% female) from the French ELFE birth cohort, we analyzed the effect of these characteristics of the siblings and their family on children's expressive vocabulary measured using the French MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory. Children's vocabulary at age 2 years was negatively associated with the number of older siblings (−0.08 SD per additional sibling), and this effect was partly mediated by parental interactions. In analyses restricted to children with one older sibling, the vocabulary score was negatively correlated with the age gap between the target child and their older sibling. The vocabulary score was not correlated to their sibling's sex, contrary to the result of a previous study. In addition, the effect of the number of siblings was less negative in foreign speaking families that in French speaking families, suggesting that older siblings might partly compensate for the effect of having foreign-speaking parents. Overall, our results are consistent with the resource dilution (stating that parents have limited resources to distribute among their children) and inconsistent with the confluence model (stating that a child's cognitive ability is correlated to the mean cognitive ability of the family). Research Highlights: Our results are consistent with the resource dilution model and inconsistent with the confluence model The negative effect of the number of siblings on expressive vocabulary is partly mediated by parental interactions Larger age gaps between a child and their older sibling are associated with lower expressive vocabulary score.
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- Child, Preschool
- Cohort Studies
- Language Development