Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

‘We’re still together’: a biographical study of sibling relationships in later life

Ogden, Helen Louise

‘We’re still together’: a biographical study of sibling relationships in later life Thumbnail


Helen Louise Ogden


My thesis explores the nature of older adults’ sibling relationships, which are best appreciated from a life-course perspective due to their enduring nature. Despite recognition that sibling relationships are important for emotional support and reminiscence in later life, little research considers the influence of past context. With the aim of exploring the importance of sibling relationships in later life, I conducted individual biographical interviews, in person or via telephone/Skype, with 35 adults (20 women and 15 men) from eleven sibling groups who included at least one sibling aged 70 or over. Participants were recruited via local radio and newsletters, and forums aimed at older adults. Sibling groups are diverse in size, gender balance, geographical dispersion, marital and parental status, education, and family culture. What participants do with, or for, their siblings currently, as well as the influence of life-course events and gender, was explored using grounded theory and life-course perspectives.
Analysis reveals that older adults’ sibling relationships are complex, nuanced and flexible, and that they gain importance in later life. Key findings include that socio-emotional support can be long-lasting; practical support, once routine, can be overlooked; physical illness and the loss of a spouse mobilises sibling support in later life; reciprocity and emotional gain received from providing support, contribute to supportive behaviour; and having more time following retirement, and realising that the years left together are diminishing, facilitates greater appreciation of siblings, with whom everyday conversation is valued as much as reminiscing. Although barriers to face-to-face contact arise in later life, technological advances facilitate better connections at a distance. Family culture, sibling group structure and life-course events influenced the nature of time spent with siblings earlier in life, and the high levels of trust placed in siblings, their shared biological heritage and their family links make them unique, irreplaceable relationships.

Publication Date Mar 1, 2019


Downloadable Citations