You may have heard about research showing that firstborn children may grow up to be more successful than younger siblings. If you’re a firstborn, you might think such findings are brilliant and pretty accurate; if you're not, you might think that they're a load of bunk.
But just how solid are these theories about birth order personality? And if they’re true, what could be the cause? The answers are pretty fascinating.
First, the research: A number of studies have found that birth order may influence how much education a person gets, how well they do in school, and how successful they are in their chosen careers. Firstborn children tend to have higher IQs, do better in business, and be considered more successful by their parents.
Younger siblings, on the other hand, are consistently shown to make less money than firstborns, and do not perform as well on verbal, math, reading, and other cognitive tests. And one study also found that in families with two or more children, second-born boys are 20 to 40 percent more likely to be disciplined in school and be put into the criminal justice system than their firstborn siblings. What gives?
Why Firstborn Children Have an Advantage
One theory is that parents may just be more relaxed about parenting and have less time and energy to spend on their second, third, and later kids. Mothers are more likely to take risks during a second or later pregnancy, like having an extra glass of wine or cup of coffee, and are less likely to breastfeed or nurse for a shorter period of time.
It makes sense: Parents who’ve already had a child are more likely to be confident and less worried about doing something wrong that could harm their baby, and because they now have two or more kids, are likely to be juggling work and parenting and have less time to devote all their attention to one child—something that the firstborn probably enjoyed before a new baby came along.
Are Firstborn Children More Successful?
Parents may also put less time and effort into playing brain-building games, reading to the child, going on cultural or educational trips to museums or concerts, or doing other stimulating activities with later-born children.
So what does all this mean if you’re not a firstborn child, or if you’re the baby in the family? The good news is that studies indicate that parents' emotional support of their kids doesn’t seem to vary at all, whether a child is first, second, or third, or sixth. And as many younger siblings will tell you, it can be pretty nice to be babied a little more by mom and dad, just because you were born last. (Though for firstborns, that may not seem fair either!)
What do you think--is this spot on for your family?