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Does Birth Order in the Family Truly Matter?

Updated on October 20, 2011

Birth Order Classifications

For many years, researchers and scientists have tried to determine exactly how a person's birth order shapes his or her personality. Paper after paper has been written that explains how each position in the birth order typically behaves, who each position is more likely to get along with, and how each position determines successful career paths. More time has been spent on the family with one to three children than on families with four or more children. Following are the main classifications of birth order and their typical characteristics. While the characteristics are typical, human nature and circumstance does allow for variation in some cases.

  • The only child is one who grows up alone, without siblings or one who spends the majority of his or her childhood without siblings, only getting a brother or sister after main personality traits are formed. The only child typically is 'spoiled', is the center of attention, and expects to get his or her own way. The typical characteristics can be explained through family dynamics. The parents are able to place all attention and efforts on one child, so in essence the only child truly is the center of attention. The only child also expects to get his or her own way because there is no reason for him or her not to. There is no competition or competing needs and the only child's needs and wants come second to none.
  • The first child is one who spends a small part of childhood as an only child. The first child at first receives all the love and attention and displays the only child characteristics. But then he or she quickly learns to share the love and attention. The oldest child typically is manipulating, controlling, bossy, responsible, and helpful. The oldest child is manipulating and bossy because he or she wants to retain a superior position to the other children in the household. He or she feels the need to be right all the time and will attempt to control younger siblings. The first child will also exhibit responsibility and a desire to help as related to the birth position. The parents may require more from the first born once a new baby arrives and the first born slips into the role of secondary caretaker.
  • The second child is one who will not have more siblings throughout the rest of his or her childhood. Second children typically are in a competition to out-perform the older sibling and may even develop opposing behaviors to claim a different position in the household.
  • The middle child is one who has an older sibling and a younger sibling. The middle child in this instance refers to the middle child of three children. Middle children are typically frustrated because they do not get special privilages that the oldest and youngest get. The middle child can also start to act out in order to secure more attention from parents. He or she may also become very adaptable because situations and rules are constantly changing.
  • The youngest child is the baby of the family and may exhibit characteristics similar to the only child as well as holding onto baby tendencies throughout childhood. The youngest child typically expects others to act on his or her behalf, relishes the 'baby' position, and forms an alliance with the first born against the middle child.

Bossy Big Sis
Bossy Big Sis

It Only Makes Sense

Birth order does indeed determine a child's personality and characteristics. It only makes sense if you think about it logically.

If a child is an only child, she will get 100% of the love, attention, and gifts. Who wouldn't be just a little self-centered in those circumstances?

The first born is going to be placed into a position in the household that is above the younger siblings. Naturally, the first born will inherit traits of responsibility when asked, "How could you let him do that when you were standing right there?"

The middle child will feel a little left out when the first child gets to stay at Grandma's overnight and the youngest child gets to sleep in Mommy's bed still. It's difficult to explain age to a child.

The youngest child will be inclined to exhibit baby behavior longer because it suits his position in the family. The first child will cater to the youngest child's demands and perpetuate the issue.

My findings do indeed point to the fact that birth order plays a huge role in the development of a child's personality.

My Experience with Birth Order

I find that birth order truly does matter on the grounds of other individuals' research and on the grounds of my own personal experiences.

My first born is highly intelligent, extremely responsible, and very bossy to her younger siblings. She feels a little resentment towards the second born because she stole some of the attention and affection. She has formed a strong alliance with the youngest child and caters to her every demand.

My middle child tends to float between being a big kid and wanting to be a little kid. She competes with her big sister to be the best and the fastest, yet she tries to hone in on some of the baby toys and privileges. She is very adaptable and goes with the flow most of the time.

My youngest child loves her position as the baby and has been fighting to stay in that position longer. She tries to get everyone else to do everything for her and throws a fit when she does not get her way. Most times, if Mom and Dad don't give in, my oldest child will.

I also know my position in the family and how it developed my personality. I have one older brother and I am the baby of the family. My brother is responsible, always keeps an eye out for me, and is a hard worker. I, on the other hand, am the baby and have held on to my 'baby' tendencies over the years. I am a little spoiled, I expect to get my way, and I will always let others do things for me if given the opportunity.


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    • Ardie profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Neverland

      Hi Tammy =) I love anything about birth order as well. I always try to use the basis of birth order and personality when looking at the differences in my daughters and how they react to the same situations. Glad to see it fits with your sons (so I know Im not just blowing hot air hehe)

      Hello CC, you add a very, VERY interesting element to the birth order studies - because you could be seen as an only child or as the youngest. I will have to look more into the impact of adoption in terms of birth order personalities. Thanks for giving ME something to think about.

      Your Cousins, nice name for a birth order Hub – I wonder if extended family fit into the equation in any way. Interesting that the roles have reversed as adults. I will research and see if that is a common theme =)

      Hi there simplysmartmom! FIVE kids?! Holy cow woman – you are a brave soul. Birth order has always interested me because I come from a blended family. I was raised early on with my big brother – but then he moved out when I was only 7. So then I was an only child for 7 more years. When mom remarried I was 14 and I became the youngest of 5. No wonder Im so confused haha Im an only youngest child!

      Hi RTalloni, your story of why birth order interests you sounds an awful lot like mine. I have a big brother who I was raised with from birth to 7. But at 5 I learned I have another big brother and sister I’d never met – we rarely saw them after that. My big brother moved out when I was young and at 7 I became the only child. At 14 mom remarried and I became the youngest to two adult siblings and a set of twins who are 4 years older than me. Very confusing. Im glad to see Im not alone in this =)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Birth order is such a curious study! I am the oldest child of my parents who each had previous families. I was born with 2 older siblings from another marriage in the family unit, making me the baby for a while, then I was a middle child for a while, and by the time I was in 6th grade I was the actual (current) oldest child.

      I was a little confused by it all because when I was little, I simply loved my older brother and sister. I gradually learned/understood more about "the facts" as well as how the previous broken homes affected our family, then my older siblings were pretty much out of my life for about 15 years.

      When we began to reconnect I still didn't have the maturity I needed to respond to them as I now wish I could have. For too long I was on certain levels stuck in the 5/6th grade with them.

      Characteristics of each position I held stuck to me throughout my life and helped form me both for good and bad. It's been interesting to think it through as an adult. Most of all, I have so much to be thankful for as a Christian with God's Word to help me with "my self!"

    • simplysmartmom profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub! Birth order definitely does make a difference. I see it with my own 5 kids and it is interesting to hear from friends and coworkers how they see similar traits in their own children. Very interesting article!

    • Your Cousins profile image

      Your Cousins 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I like your hub about birth order and it holds true in early years of life. However, as the baby of the family I have found that in my case the roles reversed when we grew up. Voted up and interesting.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      8 years ago from Western NC

      Interesting, interesting hub! I have no idea where I'd fit into this equation - I'm the youngest of six, but I was adopted, and if we go "biologically" I was the oldest. Sort of weird, but I'd say I exhibit a lot of the "first" child characteristics. This hub definitely got me thinking. Nice!

    • tammyswallow profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      I love the study of birth order. I am the oldest of my siblings. I have 3 older sons a year apart and every thing you wrote describes them to the letter. My oldest is mature, responsible, and a self disciplined engineering student. My middle son doesn't want to be anything like his older brother and is a hard core skater. The baby boy is a sweetheart, wants to be spoiled, and always be the baby. Excellent hub!

    • Ardie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Neverland

      Fen, I imagine forging your own identity apart from the family took some real work. You were never lonely but you had to make a real effort to get alone time...I never saw a large family in that light. Maybe that's why my friend with 9 siblings loved my house. It was so different and quiet. Whereas I loved going to her house because it was so full, loud, and fun! Thank you for showing me this perspective.

    • fen lander profile image

      fen lander 

      9 years ago from Whitstable

      Ardie, I was never lonely... but had to become the 'loner' in the family - and make a point of it - I wanted to have some alone time to write, read, paint and think my thoughts - but I'm sure that I was just trying to get away from the bustle of the house and my sib's - I'm still like it though. I don't think I'd be who or what I am now without the pressure to Be Me separate from THEM. Very conditioning -for sure - but I'm glad of it. Post some more on this if you can, it's a good area to look at. Thanks, Fen.

    • Ardie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Neverland

      Hi Pamela :) I did actually read about big age gaps between children and about large families having their own mini-societies within them. I can work on adding that in. At the time I wrote this I wasn't sure if it would make sense, but I'm seeing it would have!

      My brother and I are 5 years apart and my Dad left when I was 2. So my brother (in my little heart and eyes) became my father figure. That placed me in the role of baby of the family and as an only child. Gosh, no wonder I'm so conflicted hahah My oldest also tends to "mother" the other kids here. My husband always says to me "Wow, she's just like having two of you here".

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 

      9 years ago from Oklahoma

      Birth order does make a difference. Something you might also mention is if there is a big difference in age you can actually have two only children even though there is an oldest and youngest. I've seen that happen too.

      Within larger families you will have mini families of older children being pseudo-parents to siblings so sometimes a middle child will take on the behavior of an oldest child.

      I'm the oldest and mother everyone.

    • Ardie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Neverland

      Fen lander - Hahaha I bet you did learn to act in stealth. I see how much my girls tattle on each other. 18!?!?! And she thought 6 kids was a small family? I always wanted a huge family but it wasn't in the plans for me. Im envious of both you and your mom for having tons of kids running around. Were you ever lonely?

    • fen lander profile image

      fen lander 

      9 years ago from Whitstable

      I learned stealth.... as a Scorpio, acting in secret came easily. My Mum was the youngest of 18! She was born just pre-war 2 and that was the norm where she grew up (Hull N. England)She used to say she'd deliberately kept our family small to avoid the poverty she'd grown up with.

    • Ardie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Neverland

      gmwilliams - I'm sorry I didnt get back to you before now. I took an extended leave from HP but Im back now! You are right, onlies DO have several admirable traits. I debated for a very, very long time whether or not to leave my oldest as an only - how it would impact her life and future to have sibling(s).

      Vincent - kudos to you for breaking the mold and finding your own way to behave! You truly are an amazing individual with your desire to control everyone and everything around you 9 times out of 10 ;) I'm assuming the family isn't just "catering to the baby" then?

      fen lander - thank you for stopping in. Six children, wow! Sadly I didn't find much information for large families. I wish I would have though. I had a friend growing up who had 9 brothers and sisters...THAT is a lot of kids to have to find your way through. Since you had 3 older sisters I bet you always had someone staring over your shoulder...did you ever get away with anything?

    • fen lander profile image

      fen lander 

      9 years ago from Whitstable

      Hmm, I come from a family of six kids, I was fourth in line - my 3 older sib's were girls, my brother is 5th in order and younger than me. Youngest is a girl. The dynamics were very subtle. It certainly shaped me permanently, I still behave like the fourth in line... no doubt. Interesting stuff, thanks for making those points.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Actually, among my siblings I am the controlling one (which I believe you termed as "bossy"). It seems like 9 times out of 10 I am the one who makes the decisions, and looked to as the one who stays calm in an emergency. I'm the youngest.

      As the youngest, I also did not "exhibit baby behavior" for a longer time. Because everyone in the family was older than me, I actually did quite the opposite and matured much faster than other children.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      10 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      I loved the article. However, the spoiled only child is a stereotype. Only children usually fare good in life because of intense parantal attention and material resources. Only children are often independent minded and high achiever. They are not so needy as children with siblings. I should know for I am an only child. Only children can play by themselves without much fanfare and love their own company. Because of the attention I received from my parents as a child, I do not crave outside attention and am quite content to be alone for long periods of time as opposed to my relatives and friends who have siblings who are always needy and crave attention. Also us onlies are very good in one-to-one relationships rather it be friendship and/or romantic.

    • Ardie profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Neverland

      Thanks Ande :) I always wished for a little sister, but now I realize that would have meant less spoiling for me!

    • Ande Moore profile image

      Ande Moore 

      12 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Liked your article. I was oldest and the first for 15 yrs, now that was fun when my sister was born! Keep them up and have fun.


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