Effects of Birth Order on Personality


It is evident that everyone has different personality characteristics and ambitions. Although most can notice a common personality connection between individuals of the same birth order, many respected researchers have confirmed the direct correlations between one’s birth order and personality traits. For example, first-borns are often known for being logical, ambitious, perfectionists, and are characterized by being natural leaders. Middle children, however, have been shown to possess characteristics completely opposite of the firstborn in the family. Generally, the middle child is noted to be shy, rebellious, and diplomatic. Although these characteristics hold true in some middle children, studies have shown that middle children can also be extroverted. The lastborns in the family are usually known for being idealists, adventurous, and humorous. Another type of individual is the only child. These individuals are typically more mature, responsible, and self-centered. Although studies and observations from researchers have shown the positive correlations between one’s birth order and personality to confirm their observations, there are a lot more factors that determine an individual’s personality. To simply conclude that all middle children are going to be rebellious would not be an accurate statement. Even though birth order largely contributes to personality, it is the environmental factors that actually determine one’s life.

 First Born Characteristics

As experts have begun to study more in depth into the psychology of birth order, they have begun to understand that environmental factors play more important roles than the order of birth in determining one’s characteristics. For example, the first born child is typically known to be more responsible. Often possessing ambitious character traits, first born children are usually natural born leaders. In fact, it has been recorded that “twenty-one of the first twenty-three astronauts were first-borns” (Hartshorne). In a Norwegian study, researchers showed that the first born individual generally had an average of a three IQ point advantage over the next sibling (Kluger). This three IQ point difference can be properly contributed to the amount of time parents were able to invest in the child. The more instructive times a child has with his parents, the more he will develop his intellect and logic. “According to a study by Brigham Young University economics professor, Joseph Price, first-borns receive roughly three thousand more hours of quality time from their parents compared to their later siblings…” (Corrigan). It only makes sense that the first born has an average of three IQ points higher than the next sibling because the first born has more time with the parents during the early stages of life. Jeffrey Kluger, senior writer for TIME, mentions that “just 2.3 IQ points can correlate to a 15-point difference in sat scores…” (Kluger). For this reason, first-borns are more likely to be accepted into prestigious schools and are more likely to choose careers in law, medicine, or business. It has also been recorded that more than half of the Presidents of the United States have been first-borns (Corrigan). This statistic strongly shows that first-borns are more logical and ambitious because their environment has helped to develop these characteristics from a young age.

Middle Child Characteristics

Although the middle child has often been labeled as the withdrawn or mysterious child, it is often difficult to determine the personality of a middle child because there are numerous ways in which the personalities can be affected. For the most part, middle children are going to be the complete opposite of the first-born’s personality. This occurs often because the middle child has to find a different method of receiving attention than the first born sibling. The middle child is often credited to being the neglected or rebellious child. The typical middle child is often attention seeking and diplomatic. Dalton Conley, author of “The Pecking Order”, says that the middle child is “five times more likely to be held back a grade” (qtd. in Stossel). Although this statistic holds true in most cases, the middle child’s personality all depends on the relationship with the parents. Dalton Conley mentions that middle children need “time when they’re not being compared, at least in their own heads, to their older, or to their younger siblings. Time where they can get the individual attention from their parents” (qtd. in Stossel). Because middle children often compare themselves to their older siblings, they have been found to commonly choose career paths in sales, advertising, or management (Murphy).

Last Born Characteristics

Although personalities fluctuate depending on the environment, the last-born children tend to be the most predictable because the correlations are strong. Last-born individuals are often characterized by taking risks and being adventurous. This occurs fairly often because the parents are usually relaxed about parenting by the time they have the last child. Also, the last-borns are typically more agreeable and less likely to provoke others (Kienlen). In a Midwestern University study, one-hundred nineteen undergraduates majoring in various fields were interviewed on their personalities and career pursuits. The results of the study yielded that “only children and first-born children tended to have more cognitive and analytical interests, while later-borns were more artistic and oriented to the outdoors” (ScienceDaily). Generally, last-borns are innovators because they are creative. Some famous last-borns such as Mark Twain, a great American novelist, and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, prove the creative side of the last-born. Because of their creativity and artistic tendencies, last-borns tend to choose careers in music, art, or sales (Murphy).

Only Child Characteristics

One interesting type of child in the study of the psychology of birth order is the only child. Known for having an extreme personality, only children are often called the “first-borns in triplicate” because they can take on the similar personalities of the main three types of individuals (Murphy). Although only children can take on the personality of any of the three types of individuals, they commonly show similar characteristics of the first born children. Only children are commonly known for being mature, responsible, self-centered, and perfectionists. Because only children never have siblings to grow up with, they are more comfortable around older individuals (Murphy). Although only children may differ slightly from first-borns, they commonly choose the same career paths. “In two related studies, researchers at Ohio State University, Columbus, found that only children–and to a certain extent first-borns–were more interested in intellectual, cognitive pursuits…” (USA Today).

Should The Studies Be Taken Seriously?

It is evident in years of research by well respected professionals that birth order has a major influence on one’s personality. A problem that could arise from birth order is that individuals take it whole-heartedly. For instance, if a couple was expecting their first child, it would not be correct to automatically assume that the child will have common first born characteristics. The characteristics develop because of the environment. For example, Robin Williams is not the typical middle child. It is common for the middle child to choose careers in sales, advertising, or management (Murphy). Robin Williams, on the contrary, chose a career in comedy and acting. These careers have been found to be linked commonly with last-borns. Dalton Conley says, “birth order makes as much sense as astrology, which is almost none” (qtd. in Stossel). Just because birth order has a major impact on one’s personality characteristics does not mean that it always applies to every individual in the same way. Birth order can also affect genders differently. For example, the middle child is often seen as the forgotten or neglected one, but if the middle child is a female surrounded by male siblings, she will most likely not take on the characteristics of the rebellious middle child because she probably receives more attention from her parents than the average middle child. Another instance in which birth order effects can be changed is the age gap between each sibling. “Researchers have found that an age gap of more than three years cancels out birth order effects” (Elkrull). For this reason, it is common to notice the same personalities in siblings that are spread out in age.

Although the psychology of birth order is an intricate subject, knowing the factors that contribute to one’s personality and life choices may be beneficial. Even though research has found a trend in first-borns to be ambitious and logical, it does not conclude that a first-born will manifest those particular characteristics. Although the middle child is commonly stereotyped by being characterized by rebellion and withdrawal from the family, it is evident that middle children do not always take on the common characteristics of middle children. The same aspect applies to the last-born child. Commonly observed to be adventurous and creative, last-borns can possess characteristics similar to first-borns. The only child can also take on the characteristics of any of the three main types of personalities. As studies have shown, there are a few factors that could change the effects of birth order: gender and age. For this reason, researchers have invested countless hours of studying the psychology of birth order to find the conclusion: the environment. Although birth order has a major impact on one’s life, it is the environment that determines the outcomes of an individual.