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Family Dynamics and Personality

Updated on May 23, 2013

Psychological Birth Order

Psychological birth order may affect our personality.
Psychological birth order may affect our personality. | Source

Birth Order

How much influence does birth order have on personality, relationships, and career choice?

Birth order and family position is a long debated theory that is not true all of the time, but very true a good majority of the time. Let’s take a look at the dynamics of family, gender, and siblings and how they play into personality characteristics, intelligence, success, and even career choices to see birth order is even a factor.

There are many aspects of our environment, our experiences, and our perspective that shape who we are. Over the decades, research studies have been done to help figure out why people are the way they are. There are many different aspects of personality, and many different ways personality is defined. There are many factors that shape the characteristics that form personality. Many studies involving birth order have attempted to correlate the importancy of this link between the child’s place in the family, personality, and the effect on relationships with others. Much of the research results have been inconclusive.

Alfred Adler and Birth Order

Alfred Adler was the first psychologist to bring to light that birth may have an effect on a person’s behavior, thinking and choices. Adler recognized that children from the same family, in the same environment do not have the same experiences or interpretation of the events they shared with their siblings. Adler theorized that birth order had a great impact on personality, and that there were similarities in characteristics between, oldest, middle, youngest and only children.

Birth order has been extensively studied by psychologists for many decades. Typically , oldest children have traits that have been associated with high achievements. Middle children have been associated with being highly social. Youngest children tend to be more social and outgoing. Although sibling birth order plays a role in a person’s personality, this is not an exact science, and many other factors can affect how a person’s individuality develops.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how closely people may fit into these descriptions.

When Alfred Adler developed the theory of sibling birth order, his theory revolved around the number position of each child in the family. The brilliance of Adler’s theory was that personal development evolved out of not just number position, but also looking at what the psychological position is. Psychological position considers the situation a child is born into, the age difference between siblings, whether or not they are the first male or first female child of the family.

Is there truth to the Birth Order Theory?

How important do you think sibling birth order is?
How important do you think sibling birth order is? | Source

Psychological Birth Order or Actual Birth Order

Many studies have agreed with Alfred Adler's theory. One study done in 2006, by Carlson, Watts, and Maniacci found that when there are age differences greater than 5 years between next siblings, the developmental stages are very different, and it is a factor that affects the norm of that child’s position in the family. This changes the psychological role that child takes on, which will impact their personality and affect their abilities positively or negatively. The loss of a child in the family also skews how a child views their role in the family. Gender and a strong role model is also influential to the psychological position of a child in the family. For example, a third born child, being the first male, may be treated more like a first born child.

Alfred Adler took into consideration the idea that when a male is older with a younger sister, the male may strive to stay ahead of his faster developing sister. The older brother may constantly try to feel superior, and the younger sister may feel inferior.

Blended families create additional complexities to the sibling birth order theory.

Some psychologists only go by ordinal birth order, but ordinal birth order does not take many of these factors into consideration. Adler’s theory is about psychological birth order.

Which Personality Type Fits You Best?

Other things affects personality besides sibling birth order including

  • what the year span is between the siblings

  • sex of each child

  • physical differences or disabilities

  • events that can have a lasting impacf.

There are many who have debated the validity of this theory. Scientists who studied much of the past data did not find proof enough that birth order has any real impact on personality.

Recent studies have now found measurable proof that sibling birth order, besides affecting personality, may also affect intelligence. The reason some of the results of this theory might be flawed has to do with family size. Smaller families may mean more attention and resources can be devoted to the children, while with larger families, each child will get disproportionately less time attention, and finances devoted to them. Other factors include, ethnicity, education, and financial situations. Typically better educated and wealthier parents have fewer children. Who the parents are influences how the children will turn out. Many scientists believed birth order was irrelevant and that birth order effects could not be supported by the evidence that was presented.

Yet Adler’s theory, which has been in existence for decades and has many relevant aspects to it. How we see the world, and the person we are is influenced by many things. We are a product of our environment and our position in the family may just be an important tool that shapes our personality and perspective. All of this plays an important role in the choices we make, the careers we pick, and the relationships we have.

How Much Does Birth Order Affect Our Personalities?

Birth order may very have a great effect on who we are. How we see the world, how we expect the world to see us, and how we treat others. Birth order plays an unconscious role in our decisions. We are not necessarily aware that many of the choices we make come from our birth order. Our personalities are the way we deal with the tasks and interactions in our lives. From our career choices to the friends we have, and even some of our thought patterns, we may be greatly influenced by our birth positions and even the spacing in years between our brothers and sisters.

Alfred Adler believed that first born children were dethroned when the second child is born, ant that the oldest never gets over that. Personalities are a complicated topic, and birth order is an inexact science, because there are exceptions to every rule. Things like social status, life events, the number of children, financial situations, ages of parents, and personality factors, changes in family structure, all can alter the pure birth order theory and a child’s development.

When there is a space of more than six years, the siblings are not really growing up together, and the things that influence a personality will make a difference. Consider for example, how much music can change in a six or more year span of time. Think of computers, cell phones, and other technological devices, and how different the world was six years or more ago. Think of clothing styles, politics, and hair styles. Siblings this far apart in years have less in common with each other than siblings who are closer in years.

Many theorists have agreed with Alfred Adler and even elaborated on his theory. Many theorists have disputed this thinking. Judith Rich Harris, an independent psychology researcher and author believes that birth order affects the family, but not our personalities.

Family Dynamics Play an Important Role in Our Personality

There has been a lot of research done about sibling birth order
There has been a lot of research done about sibling birth order | Source

Personality and Birth Order

Some psychologists believe that the theory about birth order is a myth. The numerous research articles that have been done over the years, show how important a topic birth order is in the field of psychology. Alfred Adler developed an interesting theory that may explain some aspects that could influence our personality.

Simple Version of Birth Order

Alfred Adler developed a theory that considered the order in which a child was born into the family affects the personality of that child.

Birth Order Theory

Click here to read descriptions about the oldest, middle and youngest of the family.

Birth Order Theory

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Birth Order

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Oldest Middle Youngest Only Children

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