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Birth order and the effects on personality

Birth Order and the Effects on Personality

The psychological effects on personality resulting from

birth order have been studied for over a century and

psychologists have recorded many fascinating results. "First

borns are reported to be more responsible and achievement

oriented then later-borns, who are in turn reported to be

more socially successful than their older siblings"

(Sulloway p. 55). First borns deal with pressure from their

parents to be the exceptionally better at everything.

"Brand-new parents tend to be a paradox when it comes to

their first born child. One side of them is overprotective,

anxious, tentative, and inconsistent. The other side can be

strict in discipline, demanding, always pushing and

encouraging more and better performance" (Leman p. 62).

Personality although not completely dependent on birth order

relies heavily on which order one was born in. Birth order

effects are a result of a competition among siblings as they

fight for family prominence.

Alfred Alder worked extensively with the effects of

birth order on personality. He said that the firstborn child

was "dethroned" by the birth of the latter child. As Alder

reasoned "Sometimes a child who has lost his power, the

small kingdom he ruled, understands better than others the

importance of power and authority" (Sulloway p. 55.). "It

is natural for firstborns to identify more strongly with

power and authority. They arrive first within the family

and employ their superior size and strength to defend their

special status" (Sulloway p. 19). Alder felt that

firstborns develop a striving to imitate their parents, to

feel responsible for their siblings, and to protect others.

They are often serious and don’t like surprises. They

thrive on control, being on time and organized. "First

borns automatically fit into the category labeled

"advanced". It isn’t their idea, but with only adults for

models they naturally take on more adult

characteristics. First born people usually grow up to

be conservative. With all that adult input and pressure

to perform, they become the family standard-bearers.

First-born children are "little adults" who often go on

to become the leaders and achievers in life" (Leman p.


First borns have an understanding and appreciation for the

past. Other characteristics of first borns is being a

pleaser, a nurturer, and a caregiver. "They may exaggerate

the importance of law and order and become power hungry

conservatives. On the other hand, by fighting for the lost

love of their mother they may become high-tempered,

critical, and rebellious, or resigned, hopeless, and

peevish" (Alder p. 144-148). Alder reasoned that firstborns

were often the subject of excessive attention which led to

them being spoiled. It is important to remember that a

spoiled child is a dependent child. First borns also have a

jealous trait. When they try to suppress these feelings can

come across as a form of intimidation to the other siblings.

First born children tend to also be over achievers and

workaholics. They are known for their strong power for

concentration and conscientiousness as well as their

tolerance an patience. "Fifty-two percent of United States

presidents have been first borns (only four were the babies

in their families)" (Leman p.69). With the birth of the

second born the feeling of inferiority grows stronger,

resulting in increased competition between the two children.

"Of all the birth order positions, middleness is the

most difficult to define, let alone describe or generalize

about in any meaningful way" (Wilson and Edington p. 92).

Alders view of the middle children was much more promising

as he was one him self. "From birth second children share

parental attention with another child. This makes them more

cooperative then firstborns. They have a pacemaker in the

first child and are continuously stimulated to catch up.

They are rivals par excellence. Second children often prove

more talented and successful then firstborns because they

exert themselves more" (Alder p. 148-150). A summary of 196

Controlled Birth-Order Studies, Classified According to the

Big Five Personality Dimensions said that later borns are

more easygoing, cooperative, and popular (Sulloway p. 73).

Second born children are much more friendlier and agreeable

with others because they are continually playing catch up.

Middle children look to peers outside the family to fill the

void of not being recognized. They are much more accepting

of change, adventure, and more rebellious then the first

borns. "When they rebel, they do so largely out of

frustration, or compassion for others, rather then from

hatred or ideological fanaticism" (Sulloway p. 303).

From my reading it is quite clear that second borns

intimidate the first borns in the way they act. They may

try to compete with them or they may branch off in a

completely different direction. What ever they choose for

their life style they will all branch off from the first

born child. The general consensus is that they will be

opposite the first born. Middle children have the

disadvantage not being the first or last born and there for

deal with pressures from below and above. Because the

middle child never had the full attention of the mother they

learn to negotiate and compromise with others. They will do

almost anything not to disrupt the peace in their lives.

They become pleasers and peace makers later in life.

The youngest or ‘baby’s’ of the family receive the most

attention and suffer the most from the chance of being

spoiled. The last in line the mother usually pours the

attention on her baby. Youngest children are often outgoing

charmers, family clowns, craving attention. They are also

affectionate, lovable, and amusing. There is an

undependablity in the emotions of a last born child; one

minute they are happy, carefree, outgoing, and the next they

are rebellious and hard to deal with. My little brother

fills all of these characteristics; one minute last children

are spoiled and the next they are getting made fun of. In

self defense these ‘baby’s’ grow up with an independent

cockiness to shield them from their own feelings of self


They are the last ones to join the family--following an

over achiever and a competitive sibling--so they must find

their niche. They are used to not being the best or the

strongest and in turn have a "I’ll show them" attitude. They

tend to do anything to get a laugh or be in the limelight.

Alder did not have quite as good a review of later born

children: "They are pampered and may become misfits. They

may be lazy because of discouraged ambitions and suffer from

inferiority feelings because everybody around them is older

and stronger. On the other hand, stimulated by their

manifold chances for competition, they may overcome all

their older siblings" (Alder p. 152-154).

Personality although not completely dependent on birth

order relies heavily on which order one was born in. Birth

order effects are a result of a competition among siblings

as they fight for family prominence. Through out history it

is apparent that birth order often determined who lived and

who died. When land grants were given they were naturally

given to the eldest child with most chance of survival. The

youngest children were often cut out of the deal because

they were born smaller and weaker. The contrast between the

differences in birth order come from cultural and

evolutionary developments. First borns are over achievers

who are dependent on positive attention from elders. Middle

children are the peacemakers who try to pave their way in

life. Youngest children are the rebellious attention

craving member of the family. As important as a child’s

birth order is, it is only an influence, not a final fact of

life forever set in cement and unchangeable as far as how

the child will turn out. Our society is made up of each of

these different personalities molding together to form an

interrelated dependable predictor of behavior.


1. Ernst, Cecile and Angst, Jules. Birth Order: Its

Influence on Personality. (New York: Berlin Heidelberg,


2. Leman, Kevin. The Birth Order Book. (New York: Dell

Publishing, 1985).

3.Sulloway, Frank J. Born to Rebel. (New York: Pantheon

Books, 1996).

4. Wilson, Bradford and Edington, First Child, Second

Child (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981).

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