Birth order: Deciphering the differences in personality among siblings

By on September 26, 2006

Many say and feel birth order is correlated with how parents treat their children, but does birth order determine our lives beyond the treatment we receive from our parents?

“It is certain that the groundwork for who we become is set during our childhood years,” said psychology professor Beverly Salzman.

Many studies have found reoccurring behavioral trends among personalities, education and career paths according to one’s birth order.

In the book titled “The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are” by Dr. Kevin Leman, Leman states there are apparent distinctions in children depending upon whether they are first or second-born.

“You can almost guarantee they’re going to be the opposite. As we go down the family branch we see that each child branches off in a very unique way,” Leman said. “We find that people in certain occupational areas and expertise in life, such as architecture, accounting, engineering, those structured occupations tend to be first-born children. As we go through the family constellation and go through second children, youngest children, we find that people go into much more people-oriented vocations.”

So what does research say we are pre-destined to do as a result of our birth order?

According to research, first-born children tend “to be more achievement oriented. Parents give them a lot of attention because there are no other children in the picture to compete for it,” Salzman said.

As a result of having no older siblings to look up to, they are often socialized with adults, leading them to often become very motivated individuals. “A considerable body of research has profiled the ‘typical’ entrepreneur as being firstborn,” according to Reid P. Claxton, a professor of marketing at East Carolina University, whose article “Empirical relationships between birth order and two types of parental feedback,” appeared in The Psychological Record in fall 1994.

Middle-born children often tend to be deemed in the toughest sibling position, and are most overlooked by parents. However, as individuals, middle-borns have been found to “often have excellent people skills and are good listeners, mediators, and negotiators,” according to Claxton. With frequent practice as the ‘middle-man’ they become experts in the role.

Last but not least: the baby of the family. Last-borns are typically accused of swallowing the family’s attention. “The youngest is often babied because they have so many siblings to help them do things,” Salzman said.

Research has found last-borns often show “irregular enthusiasm for conventional achievement,” Claxton explained. Ultimately, it appears the youngest try to succeed in life with their personality rather than smarts.

However, this may have something to do with the last-born’s social opportunities. Research has found peer-socialized later-borns to be bigger socializers compared to their older siblings, “characterized as more popular, more accepting of risk and more independent of authority than firstborns.”

It is thought that the childhood years do hold significance throughout our entire lives. However, it is vital to consider all the aspects of childhood. Each birth-order appears to hold its own trend of characteristics but it is still important to focus on other factors of childhood.

“There are many variables that affect a child’s development. Age differences among the siblings, the sex of the children and the total number of children are also important to consider,” Salzman said.

It is hard to always be be certain of the exact cause for particular personality traits. However, one thing is for sure, children may actually be able to blame their parents for who they become because of their upbringing.


About Erin Elfeldt