By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK Jan 31 You might think that Sunday's
Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and the San
Francisco 49ers, which pits brothers John and Jim Harbaugh
against one another as coaches, is all about the game.
But what happens on the field might be just the tip of the
iceberg for sibling rivalry. What about deep-seated issues like
who makes more money? Or who does mom really love best?
Sibling rivalry is not just for the sandbox; it can
perpetuate into adulthood, too. And in these grownup conflicts,
money is usually at the core, experts say.
"In adulthood, all the issues of childhood can become
amplified," says Manhattan psychotherapist Jeanne Safer, author
of sibling-focused books like "Cain's Legacy" and "The Normal
"If a sibling makes more money than you, then they're more
successful in the eyes of the world - and maybe your parents,
Indeed, people tend to keep a close eye on how their
siblings are doing financially, according to a 2012 TD
Ameritrade survey of Baby Boomers.
Some see their siblings doing better financially (20
percent), and others say their siblings are worse off (24
percent). Among the reasons cited for the spread were better
jobs, spousal income, kid-free households or a superior
Salary and the size of one's bank account are not the only
money issues that can trip up sibling relationships. Families
can be torn apart by issues like inheritance, the cost of caring
for elderly parents or loans between siblings.
WIRED TO COMPETE
Money issues between siblings might be behind the worrying
numbers uncovered by insurer New York Life in its
2012 Keep Good Going Report, which surveyed more than 2,000
Americans about how they are faring in their personal lives.
While relationships with one's children, spouse and parents
all got decent marks, relationships with siblings brought up the
rear. Respondents only gave themselves a C+ in this area.
Sheer competitiveness is a big problem, says Derrick Kinney,
a private wealth adviser in Arlington, Texas who has counseled
many clients about their gnawing family issues.
"It's very easy for siblings to try to outdo each other,
especially with finances."
It is important to develop a more collaborative relationship
and approach your brothers and sisters without an attitude of
'How can I beat you,' Kinney says.
That said, it can be supremely difficult to overcome
personal wiring, which in many cases, can be traced back to
Over 18 years in the advisory business, Kinney has observed
that first-born children tend to be financially successful in
life because they don't have as much given to them and must
learn to make it on their own. According to one study by
CareerBuilder.com, first-borns are the most likely to make six
figures annually and hold a C-level CEO or CFO job.
Youngest children - who often end up in middle management,
according to the CareerBuilder study - tend to be treated more
leniently by parents, which can prompt them to rely on the Bank
of Mom and Dad, instead of saving independently for goals,
CRINGE-WORTHY DINNER TOPICS
The money issues of the 79-million-strong boomer generation
are trickling down to their adult children as financially
strapped parents find they need extra money for their golden
years. Others are busy figuring out how to pass along savings to
That can lead to some unpleasant Thanksgiving-dinner
conversation topics: Should inheritance be evenly split between
adult offspring, or should it be tailored to individual cases of
"If your kids are a corporate lawyer and a public
schoolteacher, who obviously don't have the same financial
opportunities in life, should you do something to reward the
sibling who earns less money?" asks Linda Leitz, a financial
planner in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Leitz says it's acceptable to do so, as long as the
wealthier sibling is okay with it, Leitz says.
In a mature sibling relationship, a richer brother or sister
might say voluntarily, 'Look, I don't need all this extra
money,'" Safer adds.
Those good intentions can also backfire, with the less
financially comfortable sibling feeling like a charity case.
And when it comes to caring for elderly parents, the
solution need not be about money alone.
While it is true that one sibling may be more able to
shoulder the costs of home care or assisted-living housing, this
can be balanced out by other factors.
"Maybe one sibling might pay the bills and another sibling
might go there more often to help out," says Safer.
The best way to work through any of these financial issues
with your siblings is not via a series of terse e-mails.
Safer recommends in-person family meetings, which will help
you better understand your sibling's point of view, minimize
misunderstandings, and get everything on the table so you can
find solutions together. If geography won't allow face-to-face
discussions, it's best to pick up the phone.
THE HARBAUGH BOWL
The Harbaughs seem to have managed the potential for sibling
rivalry fairly well. Both operate on the very public and intense
stage of the National Football League.
"These are two gifted and talented people, who are each
playing to their own strengths," says Kinney, who plans to watch
the big game on Sunday. "Regular families can function
financially at an elite level, too - as long as parents take a
leadership role, and set up siblings for success."
In fact, for Safer, the most fascinating moment between the
brothers has already occurred.
It was when John called up a radio station while his parents
were being interviewed recently, presented himself innocuously
as "John from Baltimore," and asked whether it was true that
they had always preferred younger brother Jim.
"It's hysterical. The two brothers have always denied that
there's any rivalry - but I don't buy it for one second. They're
human beings, after all," Safer says.
For the record, the Harbaugh parents denied any favoritism,
and that was before they discovered that the caller was their
While coaches don't get cash bonuses for winning the Super
Bowl like players do (unless they have incentive clauses in
their individual contracts), the victorious Harbaugh will come
away with added leverage in salary negotiations: John's contract
runs through 2014, and Jim's is up the following year. Whoever
hoists the Lombardi Trophy will likely be rewarded with an
extension and a raise, just as Tom Coughlin was after his New
York Giants won in 2012.
But they're not doing too badly as it is.
John is making about $4 million a year as coach of the
Baltimore Ravens, and Jim makes $5 million with the San
Francisco 49ers, according to reports. If there was any tension
between the two of them, all those zeroes on their paychecks
might help smooth things over.