Are you the bossy first born, the complicated middle child or the ‘baby’ of the family? The stereotypes that surround the order of which we are born is something we’ve all heard throughout our lives. But just how much weight is there behind them? With National Sibling Day (10 April) on the horizon, we decided to find out.
While the link between birth order and character traits may have originated from old wives’ tales, there is no denying that sometimes, the shoe really does fit. The oldest siblings can be domineering, a middle child is often complex and independent and, let’s face it, the last born will more often than not be the apple of mum and dad’s eye.
Countless studies have shown that our behaviour can be impacted by the order in which we arrive into our family – and according to health and relationship expert Peggie Temple from InStash, the details of our birth can shape our entire outlook throughout our childhood and adult lives.
So, how true is it for you?
‘The eldest child tends to hold great leadership qualities and hold very strong personalities, says Peggie. ‘They are very “matter of fact” people that are set in their ways. Logic and fact will always triumph over emotion and they are likely to take direction with ease.
‘First-born children are unlikely to take risks. This is thought to be because of the relationship they have with their younger siblings and their position as a “protector”. For this reason, they like to stay stable and always available.
‘Studies have shown that first born children are more likely to learn a second language and stay out of trouble throughout their teenage years.’
As the eldest, you are more likely to be…
- More intelligent than your siblings. This was suggested in a study by the Universities of Houston, New South Wales and Sheffield, who found that there was ‘a strong negative relation between birth order and cognitive outcomes of children.’ This is apparently due to varying levels of parental attention. The more siblings you have, the less attention you get, the theory says, and as a result the chances of you performing as well in academic tests are less likely.
- A rule follower. Psychologist Frank J Sulloway explained in his 1998 book, Born To Rebel, that first-born children naturally adhere to status quo unlike their younger siblings who are more likely to take risks.
- Financially successful. According to a study by CareerBuilder, the eldest often earn higher salaries than their siblings.
‘”Middle child syndrome” is a commonly used phrase with little scientific evidence to suggest that it is a feasible concept. However, from a psychological standpoint, they do have character traits that are incredibly common with each other,’ Peggie insists. ‘Many believe that siblings in the middle do not tend to get their own way throughout their childhood years. As a result, they evolve into effective negotiators that find comprise an easy notion to implement.’
She adds: ‘Middle children are very independent as they are used to not having an ally to hand. The idea that middle children are misunderstood beings that are shy and unforgiving is not only inaccurate but holds no evidence. Middle children tend to be very outgoing and incredibly determined. For instance, 52 per cent of presidents have been middle children including Obama and Lincoln.’
As the middle child, you are more likely to be…
- Manipulative. Katrin Schumann, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children, told Psychology Today that because middle siblings are used to not getting their own way, they not only become good negotiators but savvy, skillful manipulators too.
- A justice seeker. Schumann also pointed out that just like Nelson Mandela and Susan B. Anthony (who were both middle children) middles are focused on fairness. This is because they ‘perceive injustice in their family and are attuned to the needs of others as they grow up.’
- Attached to your friends. Catherine Salmon, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California explained that ‘middle borns tend to be quite attached to their friends’ and siblings, and lean on them more than their parents.
Peggie highlights that ‘the idea of the youngest child is often met with the most typecast. Speaking generally, the youngest child can evolve to be incredibly independent as the attention that they have received from their parents is less intense than that of their counterparts.
‘For this reason, the youngest sibling is known to be attention seeking, very rebellious and confident in their decisions. The youngest child is very good at managing change throughout their adult years. This is likely to be because they have experienced a lot of change throughout their childhood as their siblings get older and progress to university etc.’
As the youngest, you are more likely to be…
- The funniest – or at least think of yourself as the funniest. As revealed in a 2017 YouGov survey, 46 per cent of people who were the youngest in their family considered themselves to be the funniest, compared to 36 per cent of oldest siblings.
- Needy. Researchers from Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life found that this tends to be a result of all the attention the youngest sibling gets growing up.
- The favourite. The same study also suggests that the youngest are the favourite among parents, despite the fact that this is often believed to be the oldest.
‘An only child tends to demonstrate a flexibility in their thinking that is not necessarily shown in those with siblings,’ says Peggie. ‘They are great at thinking outside the box and tend to be rather creative.
‘It will come as no surprise that they are independent and to be honest, this is sometimes to their detriment. They do not often want to except help and instead display their varied skillset in completing tasks. For this reason, they tend to be overachievers who strive to be the best at whatever they turn their hand to. Only children tend to take criticism very personally and are actually incredibly sensitive.
We have seen that those with siblings can hold the character traits of an only child if there is a wide age gap between them and their brothers or sisters.’
As an only child, you are more likely to be…
- Selfish. While this may not be true for everyone, a 2016 study states that ‘only children receive too much attention and excessive praise from their parents and grandparents, which may cause undesirable personality traits in the children, such as dependency, selfishness and social ineptitude.’
- Intelligent. Just like eldest children, only children have been proven to have a high IQ according to a number studies including one by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Non-confrontational. If you’re an only child, you’ve been blessed enough to miss out on the inevitable fights and arguments with siblings and as a result, sciences says you tend to avoid confrontation altogether.