Does a person’s birth order have a lasting impact on them?
This question has left many parents scratching their heads and fascinated many researchers. Many studies have explored the relationship between birth order and behavior, and findings have shown that birth order can significantly impact an individual’s personality traits, social skills, and academic performance. Understanding the complex relationship between birth order and behavior provides valuable insight into individual development, interpersonal dynamics, and practical applications in education and psychology. Several behavioral development theories by psychologists and psychotherapists have been attributed to Alfred Adler’s birth order theory and its effect on long-term personality development through distinct familial characteristics and interactions.
The Impact of Being Firstborn
Firstborn individuals tend to exhibit strong and positive personality traits, such as responsibility and ambition. They often receive undivided attention and high parental expectations, which can influence their behavior. Moreover, birth order can affect firstborns’ behavior in terms of their relationship with siblings. They may feel a sense of superiority or dominance, as they are often referred to as the “big brother” or “big sister” in the family hierarchy. Their parents may also pressure them to set a behavioral and academic example for younger siblings and model success. Firstborns perform better on psychometric intelligence tests and correspondingly score higher on intellect. In school settings, firstborns are often observed taking on leadership roles and excelling academically.
Middle-borns Are The Most Adaptable to Change
Middle-borns, as the children born between the firstborn and last-born, occupy a unique position in the birth order hierarchy, which can impact their adaptability, diplomacy, and flexibility. They also are considered to have strong negotiation skills mastered by navigating the dynamics between themselves and their older and younger siblings.
Once middle-borns lose their “youngest child” status, they begin to feel the need to compete for attention with older and later-born children. Middle-borns often feel perceived competition with older siblings and strive to distinguish themselves and their achievements. Conversely, they may experience a sense of nurturing toward younger siblings, assuming caretaking roles and developing protective instincts.
Due to being born between an older sibling who received undivided attention and a younger sibling who requires more care, many middle-borns experience “middle child syndrome,” or the belief that middle-borns are excluded or neglected because they are often overlooked in the hierarchy of regard. Middle-born children usually excel in social settings, forming friendships quickly and being skilled at group dynamics due to lacking familial socialization.
Youngest Siblings Are The Most Dependent
Last-borns, also known as the youngest children in the family, exhibit distinct characteristics shaped by their birth order and their position as the “baby” of the family. Last-borns tend to be outgoing, social, creative, charming, and risk-takers. They often excel in social situations, making friends quickly and being perceived as charming and likable.
As the youngest, they often receive attention and assistance from both parents and siblings, ultimately leading to more dependency on others.
Last-borns may also experience perceived pressure to catch up with older siblings’ previous achievements and milestones, leading them to be competitive and strive for recognition. Adversely, they may seek greater attention by being rebellious or showing off as they navigate their place in the family hierarchy.
Only Children Radiate Confidence and Self-Reliance
Only children are individuals with no siblings. Only children tend to exhibit personality traits such as independence, confidence, self-reliance, and problem-solving with a strong sense of maturity and responsibility. Because of their prime birth position, only children may excel academically due to focused parental attention and access to more resources.
With greater parental involvement, an only child may also have greater exposure to adult conversations and activities, as they are often included in most of their parents’ social lives. Only children may also develop different communication styles and conflict-resolution skills— or lack them completely—since they are not exposed to the dynamics of sibling relationships. Only children may develop close relationships with friends and cousins as they seek a wider pool of companionship and social interactions outside their immediate family.
Birth Order and Lasting Development
Several factors can influence how birth order impacts behavior, such as gender, the age gap between siblings, and family size. Gender norms and traditional gender roles and expectations within a family can shape the behavior of individuals based on their birth order.
The age gap between siblings—small or large— can also influence the behavioral impact of birth order, causing the older child to take on a more parental role in the former, resulting in competition for parental attention and resources in the latter.
Family size influences the impact of birth order on behavior in larger families, where parental attention and resources are limited. This can lead to increased independence, assertiveness, and adaptability.
While birth order can cause long-term impacts on a child’s behavior, personality traits, social skills, and academic performance, it is important to note that stereotypes about birth order are not always accurate. Understanding the complex relationship between birth order and behavior while considering variants such as genetic pre-dispositions and distinct family personalities and dynamics can provide insight into a child’s individual development.
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- ABC News. “How Birth Order Can Influence Personality.” ABC News, October 26, 2016, Accessed April 16, 2023. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-26/how-birth-order-can-influence-ersonality/7959170/.
- BetterHelp. “Birth Order Theory: Insights into Your Personality.” BetterHelp, n.d.,Acessed April 6, 2023. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/family/birth-order-theory-insights-into-your-personality/.
- Buist, Kirsten L., et al. “Birth order and maternal age affect sibling personality scores but not sibling relationship quality.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Accessed April 16, 2023. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1506451112.
- MedPsych. “What Your Sibling Birth Order Reveals About Your Personality Traits (Even If You’re an Only Child).” MedPsych.net, August 19, 2021, Accessed April 16, 2023. https://www.medpsych.net/2021/08/19/what-your-sibling-birth-order-reveals-about-your-personality-traits-even-if-youre-an-only-child/.
- Rohrer, Julia M., Boris Egloff, and Stefan C. Schmukle. “Examining the Effects of Birth Order on Personality.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, no. 46 (October 19, 2015): 14224–29. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1506451112.
- Sulloway, Frank J. “Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology: Implications for Birth Order and Sibling Relationship.” Journal of Individual Psychology, Accessed April 16, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3375868/.
- WebMD. “What to Know About Middle Child Syndrome.” WebMD, n.d., Accessed April 16, 2023. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-to-know-middle-child-syndrome/.