This is endearment. It means more like a lover, like before they were married. Calling a girlfriend, wife etc 妹妹 is also acceptable. This is due to cultural preference where intimate public affections between man and woman is frown upon. So by calling someone, "elder brother" makes them look like family, or related to avoid people frowning upon such relationships. Incest is a huge NO-NO in Chinese society. Usually the male is older. Having a woman older is rare but still acceptable. For example, Empress Wu, the only female emperor in Chinese history is older than her husband, the Emperor by 6 years.