Does Birth Order Matter? Just One Factor in Child Development

Does birth order matter? Does it really make that significant of a difference in the life of a child—and possibly forever after? Some think yes, some think not so much. If the latter, what accounts then for some strongly held beliefs about what it’s actually like to be a firstborn or a middle or a youngest or an only?

What’s probably true is that birth order does matter to some degree. But so do a host of other things affecting a person’s development. These include, but aren’t limited to, such factors as:

  • Sex of a child
  • Birth intervals, or the age gap between siblings
  • Number of kids in the family
  • Age of the mother at the time of giving birth
  • Disability of a child in the family
  • Death of a child in the family
  • Number of parents in the home
  • Socioeconomic status

When birth order matters, it’s not because of some kind of magic associated with your position, it’s basically about families changing when child dependents are added. Lynne Silva-Breen sums a few things up on GoodTherapy.org:

In general, first born and only children are commonly more self-determined and disciplined, having been born into an adult system and most closely associated to adults, even as infants. The second born child is less connected to the adults in the family, and if followed by a third child, may feel a bit lost in their parents’ strong relationship to the first born and emotional focus on the baby of the family. The farther away from the parent system, the more independent and even rebellious that child may become. Additionally, the more older siblings a child has, the more accustomed they often become to letting other people lead, and can more easily go ‘with the flow’ than those born first.

George Dvorsky reports (io9.com) on a number of birth-order studies that have shown specific links between birth order and personality. Keeping in mind that what follows are generalizations, here are some of the research conclusions:

  • First-borns may experience more success and achievement by common standards.
  • Middles are highly sociable.
  • Regarding career choice, younger kids like the arts and outdoors; only kids and some oldests like intellectual pursuits.
  • Firstborns “are actually less dominant or assertive than laterborns. The researchers suspect that strict and overprotective parenting of firstborns may be the reason, which causes them to grow up submissive.”
  • Firstborns do slightly better on IQ tests. Could be related to increased parental attention.
  • Firstborns may have better verbal ability because they were more exposed to adult language, whereas youngers are exposed to “the less mature, childish speech of their older siblings.”
  • Relationships forged outside the family may last longer when there is shared birth order rank.

Tomorrow’s post will feature more info about each specific birth order category…

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