Birth Order

Birth order is the status of a child in a family dependent on when the child is born in relation to his/her siblings. Many theories surround the effect birth order has on a person's development and self-awareness. Other factors include the spacing in years between each child, the sex of the children and the amount of children in the family. Researchers have examined how birth order may effect mental health, academic achievement, personality and intelligence.

According to birth order theories, firstborn children tend to be driven, proactive and independent. A great proportion of firstborns work in the sciences, medicine or law. More than half of America's 44 presidents were firstborn sons. One study that examined 1,000 New Zealanders found that children of earlier birth tend to receive more years of education. This may be due to the nature of family resources, which may dwindle as the family grows and provide less opportunity for younger children to be educated to the same degree as older children. Younger children, in an attempt to prove how unique they are, may veer away from the academic course the older sibling has taken. Studies show that firstborns tend to be more conservative, conscientious and parent-oriented. This may be due to the fact that firstborns spend more time than the other children surrounded by an adult influence. Older children are also usually given more responsibility; parents expect more of them simply because they are the oldest. The firstborn may take it upon him/herself to teach the younger siblings, thereby increasing his/her intelligence. Other studies show that firstborn children are not necessarily the most intelligent of the siblings.

The youngest in the family is often viewed as the most open-minded, friendly and easy-going of the siblings. This may be due to the fact that the youngest tends to be the most nurtured and possibly most spoiled. The youngest will often work in the humanities. A multitude of comedians are the youngest of their siblings. Younger children are more likely to engage in dangerous sports activities than their older siblings, who are generally more cautious. While some claim that the birth order personality tendencies develop over time, others argue that children establish their personalities as early as the age of five, which includes their determining themselves to be an oldest, middle or youngest child.

Many psychologists attest to the validity of middle-child syndrome. They believe that the middle child often feels left out or ignored and will attempt to gain the parent's attention. The middle child may feel that the roles of the older and younger siblings are more defined; the middle child will then try to stand out. This feeling of unfairness and inequality may lead the child toward a career in fighting injustice. After years of negotiating between the older and younger sibling, some middle children become diplomats. Many parents expect their oldest children to take a specific career path, leaving the middle child the opportunity to choose his or her own career path. Other middle children do not take advantage of that drive to stand out and prefer a more laid back, go-with-the-flow approach.

Some studies have examined the effect of birth order on sexuality. One study used a large national probability sample, analyzing samples of men from different eras, ethnicities and countries. This study found that homosexual men tend to be the youngest in their family. These findings have been termed the fraternal birth order effect. Studies involving women were inconclusive and reasoned that birth order does not affect women in terms of sexuality as it does men.

Sibling rivalry is generally believed to be an effect of birth order. Sibling rivalry is strongest when siblings are close in age and of the same gender. Teenagers may experience a more violent and aggressive form of sibling rivalry. Children will fight for the attention of their parents. Stress in the family is also a contributor to sibling rivalry. Where parents may attempt to stop sibling rivalry in its tracks, some psychologists see sibling rivalry as a necessary and useful stage for children. Wanda Draper, a specialist in child development ,says, "Interaction with siblings is the first experience many children have with leaning to socialize. ... Children use interaction with their brothers and sisters as a way to learn how to negotiate, to compromise, to become goal seekers, and to command and give respect to their peers." Regarding children being left out due to birth order or gender differences, Draper says, "Children who are left behind frequently become more secure in themselves and more able to entertain themselves." Siblings who fight in their youth often outgrow their rivalry over time and become close later on in life.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Early Bird Gets the Worm? Birth Order Effects in a Dynamic Family Model
Gugl, Elisabeth; Welling, Linda.
Economic Inquiry, Vol. 48, No. 3, July 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
After the Bell: Family Background, Public Policy, and Educational Success
Dalton Conley; Karen Albright.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: "Beyond Sibship Size: Spacing, Birth Order, and Sex Composition" begins on p. 119
Birth Order and Risky Adolescent Behavior
Argys, Laura M.; Rees, Daniel I.; Averett, Susan L.; Witoonchart, Benjama.
Economic Inquiry, Vol. 44, No. 2, April 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Birth Order and Romantic Relationship Styles and Attitudes in College Students
McGuirk, Emily M.; Pettijohn, Terry F., II.
North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Why Parents Matter: Parental Investment and Child Outcomes
Nigel Barber.
Bergin & Garvey Publishers, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Sibling Competition as a Tragedy of the Commons"
Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity
Dean Keith Simonton.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Openness and Birth Order" begins on p. 134
Can Knowledge of Client Birth Order Bias Clinical Judgment?
Stewart, Allan E.
Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Vol. 82, No. 2, Spring 2004
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict: Understanding Emotions and Power Struggles
Erik A. Fisher; Steven W. Sharp.
Praeger, 2004
Librarian’s tip: "Birth Order" begins on p. 130
IQ and Human Intelligence
N. J. Mackintosh.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Demography: Family Size and Birth Order" begins on p. 124
Birth Order and Educational Achievement in Adolescence and Young Adulthood
Fergusson, David M.; Horwood, L. John; Boden, Joseph M.
Australian Journal of Education, Vol. 50, No. 2, August 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Effects of Sport Context and Birth Order on State Anxiety
Flowers, Ross A.; Brown, Chris.
Journal of Sport Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 1, March 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Order of Birth, Parent-Age, and Intelligence
L. L. Thurstone; Richard L. Jenkins.
University of Chicago Press, 1931
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