December 29, 2016

Sibling rivalry remains worse for generations raised in hyper-competitive era

One major change brought about by the status-striving phase of the economic cycle is intensified sibling rivalry. It's "just another" form of hyper-competitiveness, but one that threatens a core institution which is supposed to be beyond the effects of economic cycles.

No matter when you observe them, Baby Boomers have basically gotten along with their generation-mates within their kin groups -- siblings, cousins, and so on. And of course they got along with their parents, aunts and uncles, etc. Their bonds with these individuals were formed during the accommodating phase of the cycle, up through the 1960s and even into the '70s, which were a transition ("Me Generation") between the New Deal / Great Society era and the Reagan Revolution.

They do rib each other here and there, engage in "a little friendly competition" over inane crap, but overall the roots show from the pre-striver era, and they get along with one another.

The quality of these interactions takes a noticeable drop with Gen X, and really flatlines once the Millennials become involved.

For Gen X, relationships with cousins are distant and awkward, though well-meaning rather than hostile. Similar well-meaning awkwardness among siblings. They reflect the lack of time that X-ers made for others during their proto-careerist adolescence. As with any secular trend, it's worse for the later than the earlier members.

For Millennials (who in this context appear to begin with 1982 births), family gatherings bring out only aggressive egocentrism. They're rehashing what is familiar from their upbringing during the era of high-stakes childhood, especially since the 1990s. In well-adjusted families, this constant status-jockeying may appear less hostile, while in dysfunctional families it will take the form of endless sniping and baiting.

It's not the cathartic "getting it all out there" kind of battle within the family. That has an end goal -- clearing some kind of emotional clog in the system -- which once reached, brings satiety to the participants, who go back to normal for awhile. The oneupsmanship over the most petty shit has no goal other than to draw out the contest into another round. Without any satisfaction to resolve the drama, the gathering ends abruptly and awkwardly with the tension still hanging around undissipated.

These generational differences have been stable, from what I've seen of my family's home movies, at least back to the 1960s. Little Boomers weren't tearing each other to shreds back then, and do not do so now. Once you see home movies from the '80s, it's apparent how even as small children the X-ers and later the Millennials would move family gatherings step by step closer to sibling rivalry death matches.

At this point, it's no longer possible to believe that we will change things directly, and drop our hyper-competitiveness with our siblings. The best we can do is try altering the social climate toward one of accommodation rather than me-first. Making public displays of being sick and fed up with steel cage matches over nothing could at least signal to the next generation that they'd better not continue the practice. Pre-emptive shunning of social behavior that poisons the family.

Getting that message across broadly will probably take another generation or two, but it's happened before, so it can and will happen again.


  1. This is one of your posts where I'm not saying you're wrong, but I can't relate at all.
    Sibling dysfunction always seemed to be a hallmark of Baby Boomers! Whether it's my family, outer family or even friends, the selfish Boomers who make life miserable for their other family - kids, parents, other siblings - is something.
    They got divorced more. They hated their parents more and blamed them for everything wrong in their lives. They are more likely to hate and freeze out their siblings. In two separate families close to me, one working class, the other middle class, bad Boomers have even called the cops on their siblings!

    In my own family, extended family, and very outer family, I've never witnessed sibling rivalry among non-Boomers anything remotely like what occurred among the Boomers.

    Just even at Christmas, one aunt corrected my sister over our grandfather, that only my aunt was his true daughter and not merely a step-daughter. As Gen X, we are far more likely to have half and step siblings, yet none of us would ever conceive of thinking something so petty. It's so classically Boomer, though.

  2. I'm so glad it wasn't just me! As the family black sheep I had terrible relations--to the point of fist fights--with my close (and not so close) relatives. We learned to avoid one another (apparently I scared them) and haven't spoken for years. Come to think of it, I don't think they speak to one another all that much either. Wealth and privilege are no protection against this kind of thing. Life is too short to tolerate shits. Put them in their place and move on.

  3. This was a good essay, and I can easily relate. I was born in '79, my sister in '80, so we're late Gen X.

    I have one first cousin, with whom I barely speak to anymore. My parents grew up in a small farming community and moved to the big city lights of an Upstate NY city before I was born. My aunt moved more out to the country and carved a life for herself out there, ultimately having one boy with her husband who worked for Miller Brewing Company. He's struggled to have a good job since the late 90s.

    Whereas my parents pushed me and my sister to do multiple sports during the year, culminating in attending sports camps for part of the summer throughout junior and senior high school, my cousin joined a bowling league and concentrated on hunting and fishing. I hunted and fished a lot too, but had to juggle that with being a Varsity athlete, doing volunteer work, other crap, etc., in order to pad my resume for college. Hence, I only saw my cousin at birthdays and Christmas. It's kind of sad now too since I barely know him.

    My aunt and uncle also weren't adamant about sending my cousin to college and thus he decided to get into a trade. My parents found this repugnant and definitely wanted to keep me and my sister away from this influence.

    In contrast my parents were still close to their first cousins and saw them regularly. It sounded like they were hanging out almost every weekend during their childhood since the family was constantly meeting up, it was a small town with not a lot to do, and sports/resume activities didn't stuff up their schedule.

    My sister and I have a weird relationship where I care about what's going on with her (and she with me), but we won't talk to each other for like four months straight. She also moved far away to Asia and I only see her once a year. Our relationship growing up with civil but we kept our distance. I would intervene immediately if she had boy problems, otherwise she and I would live in the same house but wouldn't interact that much. I played three sports, was a Boy Scout, and had other crap going on, whereas she was a gymnast and travelled constantly for meets. Surprisingly she wants me very involved in her two boys' lives, especially when it comes to hunting, fishing, enjoying the outdoors, and sports. I'm happy about that, but she doesn't really want me to teach them any valuable life lessons.

  4. "They got divorced more. They hated their parents more and blamed them for everything wrong in their lives. They are more likely to hate and freeze out their siblings."

    I'm talking more about the social rituals at large infrequent family reunions and get-togethers, where the goal is to heighten the feeling of togetherness.

    The Boomers and Silents don't stand off to the side at reunions, or constantly snipe at each other during Christmas / Thanksgiving. It's amazing from an X-er's perspective how comfortable they are socializing with cousins, even 2nd cousins and the like.

  5. "my cousin joined a bowling league and concentrated on hunting and fishing. I hunted and fished a lot too, but had to juggle that with being a Varsity athlete, doing volunteer work, other crap, etc., in order to pad my resume for college."

    Related to weak bonds to kin is weak bonds to the local environment and regional folkways, or weak enculturation. The point is to create a striver incubation chamber around the child, and enculturation takes away too much from college prep.

    What will the admissions board care if the applicant knows how to identify dangerous vs. edible plants? Or how to take care of their boots and tools? Or socialize with community members on a regular basis?

    Speaking of bowling -- that is one of the worst activities for families to do if Millennials are involved. Everything to them is so high-stakes, they feel like they've got the college admissions board monitoring their performance.

    So, either everyone is walking on eggshells and not saying or doing much, to protect their egos, or they're alternating between gloating and sniping depending on who had good vs. bad luck on a given turn. (Bowling is mostly a game of chance among infrequent players who are in similar shape.)

    There's no informal openness, letting down your guard, and just enjoying the game.

    1. The college prep of the striver class has been killer for Church, too. At my church, nearly all the white kids save three, mine and a sweet redneck guy, are not involved in Youth Group which is very important in helping things run smoothly. The Mexicans are more old-fashioned about prizing the trades and what-not, putting religion at the center of their lives, for now.

      The Youth Group has tried to counter the White drought with having a leadership group so the teens can put "leader" on their college resumes and now making it so kids can't be involved for more than one year as to give others a chance. Starting this year, they've moved Youth Group meetings from Friday so it won't compete with Friday night Football games which pull the white kids: players, cheerleaders, band, and the kids who attend. From the point-of-view of the kids who have been attending Youth Group, over 80 kids, Friday night was the perfect night, but the White kids do want to be involved, but Friday night was out for them.

  6. couls it just be that their old?my Boomer uncles and aunts definitely act petty and start shit a lot, and my general impression is that their generation had been petty and nasty at parties since forever. My family is late boomers though.

  7. This short scene from the movie "Whiplash"(2014) pretty much sums up the poisonous, competitive atmosphere that Agnostic is talking about. In it, a Millenial jousts with his uncle about his accomplishments vis-a-vis his cousins:

  8. Millennial Mick1/5/17, 2:31 PM

    "The Boomers and Silents don't stand off to the side at reunions, or constantly snipe at each other during Christmas / Thanksgiving. It's amazing from an X-er's perspective how comfortable they are socializing with cousins, even 2nd cousins and the like."

    Is there some independent variable that measures sibling/cousin rivalry quantitatively over time? I have never observed anything like this personally, but maybe my family are weird. On both sides, most of my millennial cousins and I get along superbly, they seem to enjoy the company of their other cousins in turn, and my wife gets along well with hers. There doesn't seem to be anything unusually competitive about these relationships, though maybe I just never noticed. I had two paternal cousins as groomsmen at our wedding, and used to party a lot with a maternal cousin when she and I were at the same college. We stay in touch with lots of our second and third cousins around the same age, even some back in Europe. Some of us probably talk to each other more often than our respective parents do, though part of that is due to family size- Baby Boomers just have too many siblings to talk to all of them regularly. Even as adolescents, normal socializing always took place across clique/subculture boundaries: e.g., the Lacrosse bro got along fine with the D&D nerd and the Goth girl. Again, maybe I just haven't noticed what was staring me in the face, but this idea of increased sibling/cousin hostility doesn't seem to jibe with my experience. My generation have a lot of extremely irritating habits, but I'm not sure I believe this is one of them.

  9. Underrated post. I see this exact dynamic on Facebook. The Boomers can live and let live; after that it's a trip and fall down the staircase to a grotesque state of nature. Then again, the Boomers built a society where bien pensant whites had little to lose. Who can blame those born after the party ended for drunkenly fighting in the streets?

  10. >Laguna Beach

    Dysgenic neurotic family produces dysgenic neurotic children. Your experience isn't typical.


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