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Birth Order and Personality Development: Is the Theory True?

Updated on January 28, 2016

Many times, while speaking, we try to explain a person’s behavior by alluding to the birth order in which that person was born. Be honest, haven’t you ever said “my gosh she is so spoilt because she is a last child” or “yea he is so careful because he is a first born”? It is a common generalization that we tend to make but is there any truth to it? Does birth order and personality really intertwine?


For years this topic of birth order and personality has been highly debated and well researched. There were findings that ‘children who came later down on the birth ladder tended to engage in more risky behaviours’ and observations like ‘of the first 23 astronauts there are, 21 of them are first-borns’. How interesting. However, up until recent times studies found no convincing scientific evidence to prove the birth order theory, nothing concrete to prove that sibling position help to shape our personality. Though some research now backs the theory, the correlations found between birth order and personality tend to be small and vague. So, the debate rages on.


For those who believe In the idea of sibling position influencing personality, they say that the birth order impact is almost as important as that of gender. They say it is another way in which nurture [from the famous nature versus nurture argument] affects who we are. It is purported that the way in which birth order personality traits arise is as a result of two things: parental attitudes and the unique challenges which each sibling position poses.


Birth order and personality development

This newborn baby's personality may be impacted by his sibling position.
This newborn baby's personality may be impacted by his sibling position. | Source

Parental attitudes influence the development of birth order personality traits

It is said that no two children have the same parents although they may belong to the same family. Parents behave differently with each child. The first child has no competition for the parents’ attention, time or money; at least for a while. Parents tend to be overly attentive and cautious, so they praise every little achievement and worry over every bruise or pain that the child may experience. It is their first go at it so it is kind of like a trial and error thing. They read all the books and try to get it right. As a result of this, the first born grows to be a perfectionist, over achiever and aims to please his/her parents.

Middle children will find themselves having to compete for the attention of Mommy and Daddy. With the middle child parents are less compelled to worry as much, they groom this child with less of an iron clad hand. Consequently, this child develops the personality of a people pleaser [as they are always competing for attention] and less of a perfectionist than their older sibling. They are groomed to be conciliatory and can progress to become excellent negotiators. ,

As for the last child, by the time parents get here they have adopted a more laissez faire attitude towards parenting. They are more lenient and more relaxed in their style of parenting. Last children get away with a lot more. Hence, the last child grows up having more of a free spirited and uncomplicated personality. They also tend to be attention seekers.

In explaining the impact of parental attitude or behavior on the development of birth order traits though, we must be careful to note the fact that these attitudes can vary with family size. The more siblings there are, the less parental resources there will be available to each child. For example, a child in a two sibling home would get a lot more parental time than a child from a five sibling home. Therefore, the personality outcomes of the children might vary somewhat for each sibling position.

Parents influence birth order traits

A father takes a walk with his child
A father takes a walk with his child | Source

Do you think there is some truth to the birth order theory?

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The challenges of each sibling position impact birth order traits

When the first born arrives in the family, no other siblings exist. So, initially he/she lives and grows amongst only adults. As the eldest , the first born is challenged with being the leader and being responsible. He/she is usually charged with being in charge and, in most settings, has to care for younger siblings. Thus, first born siblings develop to be mature, careful and responsible individuals.

The middle child is sometimes conflicted. They are not the first, they are not the last. They sometimes feel left out. As a result, they are somewhat rebellious individuals. They are understanding yet competitive.

The last child has no other sibling or not much to be responsible for. Everything is seemingly done for them without much effort on their part. They develop into more free spirited, outgoing persons and tend to engage in riskier behaviors.

The challenges of sibling position also influence birth order traits

A child comforts another child who is hurt.
A child comforts another child who is hurt. | Source

A break-down of the birth order traits

Here is a break -down of the birth order personality traits for each sibling position

First born

Reliable

Responsible

Conscientious

Structured

Cautious

Controlling

Over achievers/highly educated

Diligent

The middle child

Concerned with fairness, negotiators

People pleasers

Somewhat rebellious

Large social circle

Peace maker

Last child

Free spirited

Outgoing

Fun loving

Uncomplicated

Manipulative

Attention seeker

self centered

large social circle

An only child

Only children have the ability to monopolize their parents’ resources for the rest of their lives. This can be both a blessing and a curse. They are blessed with having all their parents’ attention, time and money but at the same time they carry the burden of having all their parents’ expectations. An only child is said to be like a super first born. They are mature for their age; they are like mini adults as children. They make excellent leaders and are very conscientious.

Other birth order factors

There are other factors, besides being an only child, that can affect the development of birth order personality traits. These include blended families, families within families [like twins, triplets etc.], gap children and adoption. These factors may vary the personality expectation for each sibling position.

Though the linking of birth order and personality development is widely disputed, it is still a very interesting topic to take note of. What is clear is that us as parents have much of an influence over who our children become. We cannot control everything, as genetics plays a huge part in personality development. However, we can take note of our possible influences on our children’s personalities and try making conscious efforts to keep our actions in line with how we would like our children to be molded.

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