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
3.Sulloway, Frank J. Born to Rebel. (New York: Pantheon
4. Wilson, Bradford and Edington, First Child, Second
Child (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981).