Oldest sisters or baby brothers are more than simple labels on the family tree. Psychologists say that birth order affects all aspects of a child's personality. Birth order is defined as a person's rank by age among his or her brothers and sisters. A great deal of research has been devoted to the phenomena of birth order and how it impacts children within a family. Many differences in the behavior of siblings have been attributed to birth order.
“Such differences range from general expressions of achievement to more specific behaviors including tendencies toward entrepreneurship, attainment of higher education and eminent occupational status, endorsement of unconventional ideas, and leadership of scientific revolutions, to name only a few. (Claxton, 1994) Birth order is not alone in the development of children’s personality traits. Numerous genetic and environmental factors contribute to differences among siblings.
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The different socialization patterns that children experience, based on birth order, can result in overt personality and behavior trait differences between firstborns and later-borns. (Claxton, 1994) Studies have related birth order to personality, intelligence, and vocational tendencies. Firstborns tend to be socialized by adults, where later-borns, have progressively more opportunity to be exposed to the socializing influences of older siblings. Adult-socialized firstborns are sometimes assumed to be more achievement oriented.
Later-borns, experiencing a greater proportion of socialization are often characterized as more popular, more accepting of risk, and more independent of authority than firstborns. Such socialization differentials suggest qualitative differences between firstborns and later-borns in terms of behavioral and personality characteristics. (Claxton, 1994) Firstborns have a greater tendency than later-borns to be conformist and oriented toward authority and responsibility. As a special type of firstborn, only children tend to be highly motivated, self-confident, and achievement oriented.
Only children are believed to be more accustomed to dealing with adults than are other birth positions. In contrast to firstborns, middle-borns have been generally described in terms of relatively greater orientation toward peers, group cooperation, and other social activities. The middle birth positions are often considered the most difficult, in part because middle-borns may receive less individual attention from parents. (Seff, 1993) Middle children may compensate by developing many non-parental relationships.
Middle-borns often have excellent people skills and are good listeners, mediators, and negotiators, perhaps because they must navigate through a world of siblings who are both older and younger. A family's last born child is often believed to be favored by parents. Last-borns have been characterized as being especially vivacious and fun. (Claxton, 1994) Children in different ordinal positions experience different socialization environments. Interaction with both parents and other siblings is affected by one's position in the sibling order.
Firstborns tend to receive more parental attention, in terms of both support and control. They are also more likely to be given responsibility and control over younger siblings and to have higher expectations associated with their own performance. Children who report that they spent time teaching younger siblings had higher levels of reading and language achievement themselves. Such socialization experiences are the basis for the expectation or the perception that firstborns are more dependable, responsible, cautious, conservative, and have higher achievement motivation than later born children.
The distinctive feature of the position of younger children in the birth order is that they are subject to more child-level interaction and are typically subordinate to the oldest child. Younger children (with the possible exception of the last born) receive less attention from parents, less encouragement, less responsibility, and lower expectations and have a harder time carving out a distinct niche for themselves in the family system. These tendencies are, of course, attenuated by a number of factors, including the number of siblings, the sex composition of the sibling order, and the spacing between positions.
Firstborns may become conservative in their outlooks. Later-born children develop strategies of survival that may entail risk-taking and daring behavior. These differences in competitive strategies can generate personality differences across birth orders, and have lifelong implications. (Carter, et. al. , 2002) Part of the unique family environment is birth order. Although genetically related, siblings differ in age, experience, and in reproductive value to their parents. Differences between siblings growing up together can be magnified by contrast effects.
First-borns tend to be more extraverted and conscientious but less emotionally stable, agreeable, or open than are later-borns. (Revelle, 1995) Some variables are believed to affect the above descriptions. For instance, if there are several years between the first and second child, the second child will have some characteristics of a firstborn. Or, if the firstborn is a girl and the second a boy, the son will have some first-born characteristics because he is the family's first male offspring. Further, if there are more than four years between siblings, the next born takes on the traits of the oldest or first born.
Sibling deaths, adoptions and blended families can also upset the traditional birth order. (Revelle, 1995) Studies have shown that while first-borns males may be more creative, the opposite is true for females, with later-borns being the highest in creativity. Test scores demonstrate that the highest creativity are found among first born males and later born females. According to Eisenman, it may be that first-born males receive greater intellectual stimulation in their family and this predisposes them to be high in achievement and creativity.
While the first-born female may receive the same sort of intellectual stimulation, she may be restricted by both her birth order and gender. It is believed that that parents tend to be more restrictive toward their first child, and toward females in general. The first-born female may be exposed to a higher level of parental anxiety and also more restrictive parenting styles, because of being female. This is thought to inhibit creativity in first-born females and reduce the risk taking behavior often associated with creativity.
“The first born male would also be inhibited somewhat by the overly strong parental concern, but overcomes this as far as creativity is concerned, perhaps due to the greater intellectual emphasis the first born male gets, as a child having only adult companionship in the family, until the birth of the second child. ” (Boling, et. al. , 1993) Parents may be more aggressive with their approach to the first male child to achieve intellectually and academically. The first-born female seems to be over-socialized by parents, in response to their fear for the welfare of the female child.
As a family grows, parents typically loosen up some of their controls, on both male and female children. The first-born female learns responsibility, usually in socially typical roles, having to care for her younger siblings. She may achieve well in intellectual and academic pursuits. But, the over-socialization may make her less likely than later born females to take risk, and thus may decrease creativity in the first-born female. (Eisenman, 2001) Birth order has been shown to have an effect on vocational tendencies as well.
Firstborns' are shown to that require mechanical, technical, clerical or business system competencies, or toward positions that require leadership or persuasive skills. They may value economic and political achievement, their own as well as that of others. Firstborns are less likely to seek occupations which promote artistic, musical, dramatic, and literary interests, or involve a high degree of human and interpersonal relations activities. The later-borns gravitate towards vocation that are investigative, social, and artistic.
“They would gravitate toward occupations that would utilize their scientific and mathematical abilities, promote their artistic, musical, dramatic, or literary interests, or involve interpersonal and human relations activities. Further, they are less apt to value political and economic achievements and more apt to value scientific, social, and artistic achievements. ” (Lynch, 1980) Kevin Leman, author of The New Birth Order, notes in his book that 23 of America's 41 presidents were first-born or "functional first-born," meaning the first male child.
So were 21 of the first 23 astronauts the United States sent into space (the other two were only children). A much greater proportion of first-born end up in professions such as science, medicine and law, occupations that require analytical skills and hard-driving personalities. He also notes that an unusual number of comedians - such as Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, Drew Carey, Martin Short, Jim Carrey and Leslie Nielsen - are babies of their families, "funny people who got away with murder as kids," he says.
There are some theorists who propose that as families have gotten smaller, test scores have risen, because the intellect is higher. “SAT scores will continue to rise for the rest of the century. When today's 4-year-olds take the SAT 14 years from now, the average score will be even higher than it was in 1963 when the 40-point decline began. But then scores will probably begin to drop again. You see, after 1980, the birth rate began to rise and family size seems to be increasing. ”
This belief is based upon confluence theory, proposing that because the intellectual development of a family is like a river with the inputs of each family membernflowing into it. Tests, which indicate intelligence, are dependent heavily on verbal ability. Then imagine the intellectual environment as providing a pool of words to the growing child. Adults contribute a large vocabulary to the pool and babies contribute nothing. The pool of words surrounding the only child at age 5 is different from the pool surrounding the second-born child of the same age who has a 7-year-old sibling. As families get larger, children's intellectual development suffers, and the effect is accentuated by birth order, the more older siblings a
person has, the lower his or her intellectual level because of the decrease within the family intellectual environment. (Hall, 1986) There are many additional factors that can influence intelligence. If there are higher numbers of adults present in a child’s daily life, as in an extended family, this may have an impact on verbal ability as well.
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- Mining New Gold from Old Research; He Reworks Past Discoveries, Looking for Basic Behavioral Processes That Are as Fundamental as Biological Processes. Psychology Today, 20, 46+.
- Retrieved December 11, 2006, from Questia database Parrott, L. (1992).
- Earliest Recollections and Birth Order: Two Adlerian Exercises. Teaching of Psychology, 19(1), 40-42. Retrieved November 29, 2006, from Questia database
- Retrieved November 29, 2006 Seff, M. A. , Gecas, V. , & Frey, J. H. (1993).
- Birth Order, Self-Concept, and Participation in Dangerous Sports. Journal of Psychology, 127(2), 221-232.
- Retrieved November 29, 2006 Steelman, L. C. , Powell, B. , Werum, R. , & Carter, S. (2002).
- Reconsidering the Effects of Sibling Configuration: Recent Advances and Challenges. 243+. Retrieved November 29, 2006
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