Does birth order matter ?

Is the eldest child always the most serious? The youngest the most gregarious? And is there really a “middle-child syndrome”?

When you look at your toddler, it’s hard to imagine the person she will become. Could she be the next president or an international CEO? A great writer or painter? A rock star or concert violinist? According to some psychologists, your child’s personality and who she will grow up to be may be influenced by the order in which she is born into your family.

Is it by chance that so many US presidents, British and Australian prime ministers, and other world leaders are firstborns, as are pioneering artists, such as Barbara Hepworth and Pablo Picasso? Or that revolutionary thinkers, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, René Descartes, and Nicholaus Copernicus, have been last-borns? Or that adept social animals, such as Madonna and David Letterman, are middle-born children?

The importance of birth order is a hotly debated topic by psychologists. According to theory, the typical firstborn personality is high-achieving, hard-working, reliable, responsible, and a good leader, if somewhat conventional and uptight. This may be why studies seem to show that firstborns are more likely to end up in leadership roles.

An eldest child is closest to the parents in many ways, and can also act as surrogate parents to younger children, which reinforces this role. By contrast a typical youngest child may be fun-loving, creative, adventurous, and rebellious. She may not have the eldest’s authority but she knows how to turn on the charm. Her special place as “baby” of the family may make her more outgoing and social than your eldest but also leads to the risk of her becoming spoiled and dependent as an adult.

Firstborn and last-born children are in a special position since they will both benefit from some one-on-one parenting time that can have a positive effect on their IQ. But does this mean that middle children lose out? Being in the middle can be positive: they seem to make up for the difference in family attention by making an extra effort outside the family, and they are often good team players and negotiators.

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