Background: Established evidence shows the long-term effects of childhood adversity on several domains of adult lives; however, few studies examined the impact that childhood family violence exposure has on sibling relationships later in adulthood. To address this gap, this study examined the latent class structure of childhood exposure to family violence and investigated whether and how latent class membership predicted aspects of adult sibling relationships, including geographical proximity, contact frequency, perceived closeness, similarity in outlook, and support exchange.
Method: We used data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS). The WLS is a long-term study of a random sample of individuals (n = 10317) who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 and their selected siblings. The current study utilized data from 3,921 sibling respondents who participated in the 2005 survey. To test the hypotheses of the study, we employed latent class analysis (LCA), an analytic approach to find homogeneous groups of individuals based on the intersection of multiple characteristics using Mplus version 8.6. First, we aimed to understand the latent classes or subtypes of childhood family violence exposure and identify the optimal number of latent classes. Once we identified the latent structure of childhood family violence exposure, we examined whether latent class membership was associated with the five aspects of adult sibling relationships using the Bolck, Croon, and Hagenaars (BCH) approach of LCA.
Results: We identified five latent classes (prevalence rate noted): No Exposure to Family Violence (75%), Exposed to Intersibling Violence (7%), Exposed to Overall Family Violence (4%), Exposed to Paternal and Interparental Violence (10%), and Exposed to Maternal and Interparental Violence (5%). The distal outcome analysis showed that childhood family violence was a significant predictor of adult sibling relationships. Specifically, we found that the Intersibling Violence, Overall Family Violence, and Paternal and Interparental Violence classes showed lower levels of perceived emotional closeness and similarity in values/outlook with their siblings than the No Exposure to Violence class.
Conclusion: Childhood exposure to family violence may have long-term negative effects on the emotional aspect of sibling relationships in adulthood. Our findings address the missing gap in the literature and offer timely and relevant knowledge about the lasting impact of childhood family violence on adult sibling relationships. Siblings play an important role enhancing individuals’ lives through maintaining cohesiveness and providing social support and help in times of need and distress. Therefore, the finding that childhood family violence undermines the emotional quality of adult sibling relationships suggests that adults with a history of childhood victimization may face added disadvantages from the legacy of their early family experiences, which warrants further investigation.