Does Birth Order Really Matter?

Sibling relationships sorted.


In 1874, Francis Galton made a revolutionary discovery: firstborn sons were overrepresented among scientists. Ever since that time, researchers have demonstrated that birth order plays an important role in everything from career choices to whom we marry. Here’s a simple guide to help you coach your kids based on their unique position in the family.

First Born

Big Brains: Parents tend to pour their resources and energy into the first born son or daughter. Let’s face it, we have more time to devote to developing the cognitive skills of our children the first go around. As a result, the average IQ score of firstborns is 3 points higher than their younger siblings.

Family Connections: Most firstborns spend a great deal of time taking care of their younger brothers and sisters and tend to become the guardians of the family. As a result, firstborns typically feel comfortable “running the show” for their siblings. Help your eldest son or daughter foster this role by giving them the opportunity to take charge early in their career as a firstborn. This will help ease the transition from only child to one of the gang.

Competitive:  How do you think it affected your first born to go from only child to older?  For many firstborns, this is a tough transition that awakens the desire to regain your affection and to be the center of attention.  This could cause them to be less trustful and more competitive throughout life, even into adulthood.  Look for teachable moments in the life of your firstborn that will help you explain and model how to balance a healthy competitive spirit with a willingness to take risks and fail.

Conservative:  Bottom line:  firstborns are more conservative than their rebellious younger siblings.  They even tend to be more rule oriented and might even be more religious than their little brothers and sisters.  Want proof?  Radical political activists (Think Trotsky and Castro) are 18 times more likely to be a laterborn than a firstborn.  To help avoid rigidity in her thought processes, look for opportunities to help your firstborn understand the spirit of the law in addition to the letter of the law.


Future Presidents: Since your middle boy or girl is used to literally being in the middle of things, middleborns tend to be unbiased and levelheaded.  This leads them to careers that involve negotiation and to be well-suited for positions in management and politics.  Help your little one leverage this trait by encouraging them to be sensitive to other people but also willing to develop independent (and perhaps even unpopular) thoughts.

Perfectionists: Having no defined role in the family, a middleborn plays the part of both older and younger sibling.  They’re less likely to be seen as a favorite child.  In one study, mothers defined their middleborns as low in competence and achievement.  Such a perception can reduce a child’s self-esteem.  So, although we don’t typically see them in this way, middleborns actually tend to be maladaptive perfectionists.  To ensure this isn’t the case with your middleborn, find environments in which your middleborn can develop a strong sense of competence, like team sports or karate.  Also, catch your middleborn doing something right and affirm him whenever possible.

Comrades: Middleborns make for wonderful friends!  They are less likely to be involved with their families, reaching out to their peers and forming stronger relationships with individuals outside their kinship.  Although this can be a positive trait, it is important to foster your middleborn’s connection to your family.  Recognize the difficulty your middleborn is likely having developing a family identity, and help her carve out a special role.  How can you make your middleborn an expert in a particular topic important to the family?


Spiritual:  Religious observance is stronger in lastborns.  Spirituality (or the importance of God in one’s life) is also highest in lastborns.  Cultivate your lastborn’s spiritual awareness by making spiritual topics fair-game for family discussions.

Warm and fuzzy:  In families with three children, the lastborn is especially tender and altruistic, perhaps because he gets babied.  Although you want to make sure you cultivate this capacity for warmth by focusing on affection and touch, make sure your lastborn is challenged to be as responsible as the rest of the kids in the family.  For instance, find ways your lastborn can pitch in and help with family chores, even if it creates a bit more work for you!

Relationships: Research has shown that individuals are more likely to form romantic bonds with those who share their birth order.  This may be because of similar personalities and life goals.  So plan on your lastborn being attracted to the babies of other families.




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