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Does Birth Order Make a Difference in Traits?

Updated on June 6, 2011

Does Birth Order Matter?

Can birth order affect our personalities and traits?

Psychologists believe birth order can determine many aspects of a person’s personality. Since children learn much of their behavior during the early years of their lives, relationships with siblings have a substantial impact on adult temperament. Also, parents tend to have different expectations for their children based on where each child falls in the family tree.

There’s speculation that first born children benefit from having their parents’ undivided attention, at least until their sibling arrives. Or is their a difference in the “big dreams” moms and dads have when they’re expecting their first child? Do these first-borns pick up on these dreams or expectations? Another theory is that the oldest child is usually given more responsibility and expected to help younger siblings. This builds brainpower.

Does birth order affect children in other ways? Does it shape personalities, interests, and futures? Many factors, from genes to life in the womb, influence how your child turns out, so don’t attribute too much to birth order alone.

Whether they’re first born, in the middle, the youngest, or the one and only, children all have personality characteristics associated with their birth order. Beyond the stereotypes, there’s research dating back to one of the fathers of psychology, Alfred Adler, that clearly shows how birth order helps shape who you are and how you approach the world, relationships, and parenting.

However, birth order does not mean destiny.

The Firstborn Child

It is commonly claimed that firstborns are natural leaders and problem solvers, with strong organizational and reasoning skills. However, they can also struggle with perfectionism and unrealistic expectations. They are smart, ambitious, and determined to succeed. (Twenty-one of the first twenty-three American astronauts were firstborns and over half of all U.S. presidents were firstborn children.)

Firstborns tend to grow up to be mature, organized, and responsible adults; many of whom end up in leadership roles, but who also run the risk of being controlling, strict, and overly hard on themselves (and others).

The firstborn child in any family is in a position of distinction. This position has benefits and challenges. After all, being the sole recipient of a parent’s undivided attention and devotion can make a child feel particularly special. It can also provide an opportunity for closer scrutiny and higher expectations, including setting a good example for younger siblings.

The Only Child

Only children are often an “extreme” version of firstborn children. They typically relate best to people who are much older than themselves. Since they didn’t have built-in playmates as children, only children are often very independent, creative, and self-sufficient. They also tend to be very successful in their professional lives, since they are achievement-oriented and typically have the full support of their parents.

Only children get to be the center of their parents’ attention for a lifetime! Only children are often referred to as lonely-onlies, because without the presence of a sibling and some of the attention off them, they have a tendency to become more self-centered and directed.

The Middle Child

The child born second (or third or fourth or fifth) is put in a very different position than the firstborn. Parental attention now needs to be divided, and there is an older sibling’s standard for the younger child to live up to.

The personality traits of middle children are not as easily defined; however, middle children do tend to move in a direction that is different from their older siblings and often look outside their family to find a group in which they can feel special.

Middle kids are said to be great negotiators and peacemakers, with laid-back attitudes and a love of socializing. According to Linda Dunlap, PH.D., a birth-order-theory expert, middle children are the ones most likely to move far from home once they grow up, partly because they’re seeking a clear identify after having spent their early years sandwiched between siblings.

The Youngest Child

Children who are the last in the birth order are generally charming and outgoing. However, youngest children are said to be the least likely to be disciplined. Maybe because their parents are too laid-back or worn down, by the time the last child arrives to worry over every infraction. Youngest children are usually considered to be the ones that are most doted on, and because of it become good at wrapping people around their little fingers. This perception of being an undisciplined charmer can have its drawbacks. They may be perceived as being spoiled, stubborn, and manipulative.

While being the youngest may seem like a carefree position to hold, this child has to compete more than any of the others for attention. He has much less need (and therefore, ability) to be self-sufficient, and receives far less notice for accomplishments than when those feats were mastered by siblings. The result is a child who thrives on any praise tossed his way, and one who is likely to do anything to get attention.

What can we expect from birth order?


Having looked at the classic characteristics and tendencies of children born in each birth order position, there are several caveats and exceptions to consider: First of all, gender plays a role. If a firstborn child is a girl and the next is a boy, the scenario that plays out may be more like two firstborn children than that of a first born and middle child. The same often holds true if more than a few years separate the birth of two children. Add twins, step-siblings, or adopted children, and the possibilities become more complex.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that the order in which a child is born into a family does not have to define a set course in life from which he cannot deviate. Each child is an individual and how you rear your children can be far more important than the order of their birth.

What to do? NOTHING. The best advice for parenting any child is to not let any theories pigeonhole your child’s personality. You need to help him be the best version of who he naturally is.

Does Birth Order Matter?

Does Birth Order Matter?
Does Birth Order Matter?

Do you think birth order matters? Please leave us your comments.

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  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 7 years ago

    Hi gmwilliams, it's really amazing how accurate some of the tendencies for birth order are. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • gmwilliams profile image

    Grace Marguerite Williams 7 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

    To Lamme: Your hub is right-on and on target. My mother is the firstborn of ten children, she is superperfectionistic, love to take charge, and can be quite bossy. I, on the other hand, am an only child. I love being alone for long periods of time. As a child, I related well only with adults and older children whom I love! I found younger children and children in my age category to be a bit insipid and working my nerve to the nth degree( I do not mean this in a positive way).

    Both my mother and I are very strong-willed. During my adolescent years, we would often have intense arguments, leaving my mother flustered and at a loss for power. I was gaining!

    Many people tell me that I can be quite argumentative and can be quite insistent in getting my way. When I am right, I will fight to death for what I believe in and I will give no quarter.

    I know many youngest children in the family who fit your description. A cousin who was the youngest of eleven children could be described as brash, loud, and bratty. I instantly hated her. I was quiet, calm, and reasonable while she was pushy, obnoxious, and had other annoying characteristics. Every time she spent the summers with me-I hated her and wishes that she went home immediately. There were times when I wanted to choke her. She was an annoying brat. In addition to the mentioned behaviors, she was also a jealous liar. She only spent three summers with me. She ended up marrying too young and her husband killed her.

    Yes, I find the youngest child in the family to be quite annoying and tiring. However, there are SOME exceptions for example, my late lovely Aunt Betty Jean, who is also quiet, a loner, highly intelligent, and sensitive and my first cousin once removed, Lillian Moore, who has a Master's Degree in Psychology. A wonderful, intelligent woman and a good conversationalist.

    The people whom I love to socialize with are fellow only children( we onlies are such great and loving people), oldest children, and some middle children from small and medium-sized families. I inteface well with people from small and medium-sized families as they are urbane, charming, and cultured. These people give me the least grief. Great hub.

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 7 years ago

    Hi vocalcoach, thanks for stopping in. It is kind of fun to see those little traits played out in our own family. Thanks for your comments!

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

    This is certainly an interesting hub. I have never given this subject a thought up until now. Having read this, and looking back on my own childhood, I can see similarities between your information and my own life experiences between my siblings. Good food for thought. Excellent!

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 7 years ago

    mrpopo, it really is interesting and it's fun to see the different characteristics in people.

  • mrpopo profile image

    mrpopo 7 years ago from Canada

    What an interesting Hub! I'm the first born in my family but I tend to act like the middle child, though I still suffer from the consequences of being a first born. It's quite an odd situation.

    It's like you said though, you have to let yourself become who you are naturally, and try not to get caught up with all the theories.

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 7 years ago

    Thanks Fluffy, glad you stopped in!

  • Fluffymetal profile image

    Fluffymetal 7 years ago from Texas

    Loved this hub!

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 7 years ago

    Thanks oishi, I think parents need to be sensitive to all of the issues you mentioned. Birth order is often something that affects how a child views themselves, not only within the family, but as a person. It can shape who they are.

  • oishi profile image

    oishi 7 years ago

    Birth order definitely matters in shaping the personality of a child. That is why parents should handle issues involving children (like shyness, bullying, sibling rivalry etc.) keeping this in mind. Useful post.

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 7 years ago

    Hi Specialk3749. I can see why your first 3 are all like oldest children. The age gap between the first and second, makes it easy for each of them to pick up "oldest child" traits, and the gender difference between the next two does the same. I think it's important that we acknowledge the differences, but strive to bring out the best qualities in each of our children. This doesn't pigeonhole them into a set of characteristics. I also think a lot has to do with the natural balance of the family. I only have 5, but I'm sure you know what I mean ... sometimes we call on the oldest to "help". Maybe they watch the baby for a few minutes while we grab a shower, or even as a toddler, they brought a clean diaper and wipes while you were changing the baby. Little things like that and they start to gain more leadership and independence. It's interesting to see how all of this affects our children. Thanks so much for stopping by and your insightful comments. I'd love to hear how they all turn out LOL

  • Specialk3749 profile image

    Karen Metz 7 years ago from Michigan

    I have 7 children,but I feel like I have 3 oldest children. There is 6 1/2 years between my first and my second (both girls)and then my 3rd is a very independent boy. The next 3 "are" like middle children and my baby is only 6 months and we are not sure if he will be the baby or not. I do think birth order has a lot to play in their characteristics, but it is where God put them in our family and there isn't anything we can do about it. As a parent, I do try to "not" play into those roles, but it is very hard. It will be very interesting to discuss this with my children when they are all adults. I will give you another reply then and let you know how they think. LOL

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 7 years ago

    Thanks joy56, I think it makes a difference too. Not so much because of the placement of the child in the family, but because of the dynamics of that position. I can see a huge difference between my oldest and youngest children, my youngest kind of got swept along with the crowd ;) The oldest shows such maturity and responsibility and I'm sure it's from being in a leader role.

  • Joy56 profile image

    Joy56 7 years ago

    this is a very interesting subject...... it really does make a difference, i feel

    your pictures are absolutely beautiful

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Hi Leptirela, the older child tendencies, huh? LOL It's fun to see how accurate birth order tendencies can be. I can see how we pick up these traits just based on where we fall in the birth order. Like my oldest son, I absolutely give him so much more responsibility, while I see myself overlooking things in my youngest. I'm trying to be more cognizant of how I'm treating them ... making an effort to not fall into those old patterns. Thanks for your comments.

  • Leptirela profile image

    Leptirela 8 years ago from I don't know half the time

    Excellent Hub , Love it...

    Im an older child... hmm... It sure makes sense!!

    thank you


    beautiful x

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Thanks for your comment Pamela. I'm the second child too ... sometimes we can be hard to pinpoint in the birth order.

  • profile image

    Pamela Kinnaird W 8 years ago

    Very interesting. I hadn't read up on this subject for years. I'm the second child, so naturally I read that first. Great hub.

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Thanks Jewels. It's interesting to see how birth order plays out in our own families. The second child can have a lot of the first child traits, especially if there is an age difference, or if the first child is a different sex. Of course, every family is different and we aren't tied in to the birth order traits. They are just the result of how life differs based on where we fall in the family. It's only natural that the youngest is a little less disciplined than the first ... it happens. Just like a first child, or only child, have a certain benefit from having had the undivided attention of their parents. That and the fact that if additional siblings come along, the first child is put in a position of helper, giving them an early start in responsibility. A role most last born children don't have.

  • Jewels profile image

    Jewels 8 years ago from Australia

    I'm number 2 of 6 and I can relate to some of the personality traits mentioned. Nice hub, the pics are lovely.

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Amanda, thanks for your comments. I've been wondering how birth order might affect my children. I have 5 and I know that the 3 in the middle can take on traits of middle children, but with some variables. Such as if the 2nd child is of a different sex than the first, they can sometimes take on more of the first child traits. My youngest boy is very close in age to the baby of the family (which is a girl), yet he seems to have more of the youngest child traits. I think it's because he's a boy and they tend to mature a little slower. So even though he's not technically the youngest ... he often acted like it and so was treated as the youngest.

  • Amanda Severn profile image

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    I believe birth order definitely makes a difference. I'm number five of six, and even though we're all grown up, we still play out our 'roles' when we meet. The eldest siblings are still dishing out advice, and looking out for the interests of the younger ones, and we, the younger siblings still seek out the older ones for a bit of nurturing when life is not going our way.

    I also believe that being a younger sibling from a large family makes you able to fight your corner when necessary, but equally affects your sense of value as an individual, rather than as one of the pack!

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    It's interesting too see how these traits play out in our own families. I'm a middle child too, so I understand your point ... not the leader and not the baby :)

  • Bail Up ! profile image

    Bail Up ! 8 years ago

    I only have two children and being a girl and boy, in that order I can see the particular traits of each in this great assessment of birth order tendencies.

    As for myself I'm a middle child. I would have hated to be anywhere else. Too much responsability to be a first born, not enough for the baby. I'm perfect :)

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Nina, I'm honored to have you come by and comment! Thanks so much for your overview. I agree, it's not that we're born with these birth order tendencies ... we learn them from our parents, family and others. It's just the natural result of where we fit into the family.

  • profile image

    NinaSiblings 8 years ago

    correction - firstborns are NOT born responsible but made responsible!

  • profile image

    NinaSiblings 8 years ago

    Does birth order matter? In think in most cases, yes! Why? Because the order of birth can determine how parents treat the child and that can mold personalities.

    Firstborns are born responsible but they are made responsible starting when number two comes home. Parents often start indoctrinating the oldest child with "help take care of your baby brother (or sister)" even before the child is born.

    Middle children aren't born with a "syndrome" but they do get caught up in the parenting machinery of every day life with multiple kids and busy schedules. Going along to get along is a way to adapt to the middle child position. This attitude helps with positive socialization.

    The baby, seemingly gets away with everything, because usually they do. Parents have learned to pick their battles and have mellowed a bit. Besides the baby gets spoiled by more than the parents. It's no wonder they can master the art of manipulation, especially when everyone is looking out for them.

    Two phrases said most often when parenting the youngest versus all other birth order positions are (fill in with 'her' for girls) : "Just let him have it so he'll be quiet" and "Well, whatever, it's not going to kill him."

    Nina -author of Birth Order and Parenting

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Thanks drbj, I think birth order definitely affects us. But, as you say ... it's not our destiny.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 8 years ago from south Florida

    Does birth order determine destiny? Of course not. But where you are in the birth constellation has tremendous impact on your behavior, your personality and your perceptions. The more you know about birth order, the more interesting it becomes. At least it does to me.

    Thank you, Lamme, for an insightful, interesting hub.

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Thanks Lgali!

  • Lgali profile image

    Lgali 8 years ago

    very nice hub

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Thanks liswilliams. It's interesting how you can see these traits in people. I think it gives us something to think about in raising our children. I know I'm starting to look at my youngest and watching that I don't let him get away with too much. I also try to be mindful of not putting too much on my oldest. I can really see how these roles get fulfilled.

  • liswilliams profile image

    liswilliams 8 years ago from South Africa

    Thanks for this, I can relate kind of being the youngest. Really great hub!

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Wow, I can't imagine 10. That's a houseful!

  • Polly C profile image

    Polly C 8 years ago from UK

    I know, I remember spending days sitting on the sofa with my firstborn, marvelling at him and cradling him in my arms - not so with the second one, I just didn't have the time! I can't imagine having five - and I read Itakins hub today and she has ten!

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 8 years ago

    Thanks Polly. I have 5 kids and I see the differences too. My oldest had a great time reading this hub and laughing about how some of the traits "fit" with him and his siblings. But, of course, our parenting plays a big role. I agree ... the younger ones just have to deal with things differently than their first born sibling. That's just the way it is. Remember that special time when there was just your first baby in the home? It has nothing to do with the love we have for the subsequent children, but that one on one, totally focused time together definitely has an impact.

  • Polly C profile image

    Polly C 8 years ago from UK

    Well, I think it does make a difference in some ways. I believe all children are born with basic personality traits, but we, as parents, probably help to shape some of their characteristics. I have two children and I speak from experience when I admit that there are differences in the way I have brought them up. My first child was an only child for 7 and a half years, and he is quite focused on himself and his own desires (he's great though, and I love him dearly). However, we have certainly put more focus on him than on our younger son - it is hard not to when you don't have other children to deal with.

    My younger son, who is still a toddler, has had to 'get on with things' more from day one. I mean, he might have been a newborn baby but we still had to get up and go to school every day with his brother! Because of this, I believe, he is better able to occupy himself and does not always 'need' his mum. We go with the flow with him more, and he is quite laid back whereas his big brother is a true drama queen. (However, perhaps that would have been his personality anyway, so who knows).

    Aside from that, little ones definitely like to copy older siblings - my two year old is into skateboards, football and Match Attack football cards! Good hub :)


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