Parents' and Older Siblings' Socialization of Younger Siblings' Empathy: A Sample Case in China

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In 2016, China officially ended its One-Child policy and started allowing urban married couples to have up to two children. Beginning in 2021, Chinese policy officially began encouraging couples to have up to three children in response to low birth rates and increasing needs for workers and care providers in an aging country. Siblinghood in China has thus begun to re-emerge as a social phenomenon among urban Chinese. Given the important role sibling relationships have in the development of empathy, this relaxation and policy shift provides a unique context in which to investigate family dynamics among two-child families where there is a large age gap between children. Guided by family systems theory, the current study examined family level factors that help socialize younger sibling’s empathy in mainland China by testing direct associations between autonomy supportive parenting, marital quality, coparenting, and secondborn children’ (ages 3–5) empathy in mainland China. Direct and indirect associations with secondborn children’s empathy via older sibling’s relationship quality with their younger sibling were also tested. Results revealed coparent conflict and positive sibling relationship were directly associated with younger sibling’s empathy; further, marital quality and coparent support were indirectly associated with younger sibling’s empathy via positive sibling relationship. Parents, educators, and practitioners may consider addressing family level factors as an avenue for promoting younger sibling’s empathy development.


This article was originally published as Su-Russell, C., & Russell, T. (2022). Parents’ and older siblings’ socialization of younger siblings’ empathy: A sample case in China. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, (Online First). https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075221099179.