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Birth Order

Birth order

Definition

Birth order is the chronological order of sibling births in a family .

Description

Alfred Adler (18701937) was a pioneer in the study of birth order. His research suggested that the position a child had by the order of birth significantly affected the child's growth and personality. Research in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century shows even greater influence, contributing to intelligence , career choice, and, to a certain degree, success in adulthood.

Being born first, last, or somewhere in the middle of itself is not of significance. What matters is how that birth order affects how a child is treated by parents and other siblings and how that child feels about it. Other factors also influence the child's socialization and the parents' expectations.

Birth spacing, gender, physical attributes, and being a twin also affect personality formation and the interpretation of birth order and behavior. These factors influence how parents treat children and how each child is viewed by the other siblings.

Birth spacing changes the dynamics of strict birth order, too. If there is a gap of five or more years between children, each child may be treated as an only child or as a firstborn. If there is a large gap between groups of children in a large family, each group may be treated as a separate birth order family. For example, if child 1, 2, and 3 are three years apart and there is a gap of six years before child 4 is born and child 5 and 6 follow in two year intervals, then child 1, 2, and 3 form a birth order grouping of firstborn, middle, and last, and child 4, 5, and 6 form another grouping of first, middle, and lastborn.

Gender also has a major impact on how a child is treated within the birth order arrangement. The firstborn of either gender, no matter where in the sibling order the child falls, will often be treated as a firstborn. For example if a family has two daughters then has two sons, the first daughter and the first son will be treated as firstborns. The daughter is the true firstborn, but the first son is the first child in the household to be treated with what the family perceives as maleness. Historically, this held true and usually contributed to older sisters not having a claim to inheritance because of their gender.

In addition, if there is only one daughter in a family of three boys, the daughter will often be treated as a first born no matter where in the birth order she is born. The simple fact that she is the only one of her sex allows her to take on the characteristics of a firstborn and be treated as such. This obviously also applies to one son in a household of daughters.

That sense of specialness also applies to children's physical attributes and conditions. If a child of any birth order has a serious medical problem or a physical or mental disability, that child rises either to firstborn status or lastborn status because parental attention is placed on this special child. Robust health and beauty can also skew birth order expectations. For example, if there are two sons and the younger is bigger and more athletic, the younger may be treated as a firstborn because parental favor and expectations are higher for this child. Likewise, if the younger of two daughters is extremely pretty and her older sister is plain, the younger may either be treated as a favored lastborn or as a high-achieving firstborn.

Twins and other birth multiples also skew birth order predictions. Each twin or multiple grouping has its own birth rank. The firstborn twin usually takes on leadership roles for the twin pair. The secondborn usually is more compliant and willing to follow. For the single birth children born after twins or other multiples, birth order is skewed because the twins or multiples have become special children and, in the case of multiples, are their own birth order unit.

Birth order research focuses on five ordinal birth positions: firstborn, secondborn, middle, last, and only children.

Firstborns

In general, firstborn children have been found to be responsible, assertive, task-oriented, perfectionistic, and supporters of authority. Because they often look after their younger siblings, they get experience leading and mentoring others, often rising to leadership positions as adults. Nearly half of all U.S. presidents were firstborns; only four were lastborns. Studies have also linked firstborn children with higher academic achievement and possibly higher intelligence scores when compared to later-born children. This may be due to more exposure to adult language and greater interactions with parents. Firstborns often choose professions that require precision, such as careers in science, medicine, law, engineering, computer science, or accounting.

Firstborns can harbor some resentment toward siblings because parental attention has to be shared. They strive to hang onto parental affection by conforming, either to their parents' wishes, their teachers', or society's. If this does not bring the attention they want, some firstborns defy authority and misbehave or rebel.

Secondborns and middle children

Many secondborns are also middle children. They often report feeling inferior to older children because they do not possess their sibling's advanced abilities. Sometimes, they are very competitive with their firstborn sibling. Others choose to focus their energies in areas different from those in which their older sibling is already established. This competition with firstborns drives secondborns and middleborns to innovation, doing or being different from their older siblings in order to make themselves stand out in the family dynamic. In truth, they often are more competent at an earlier age than their older siblings because they have had their example to follow.

Middle children can feel forgotten or overlooked because of the attention or demands of either the firstborns or the lastborns. Some of these children never seem to find their place in the social order, and they try to rebel or misbehave in order to draw attention to themselves. Some of these troubled middle children bully younger siblings or children at school.

Other middle children capitalize on the injustice they feel as children and become trial lawyers or social activists because such roles allow them to fight against other social injustices. Some middleborns become very socially skilled because they have learned to negotiate and compromise daily with their siblings and their parents. Some of these children are often called the peacemakers of the household.

Middle children have also been found to succeed in team sports , and both they and lastborns have been found to be more socially adjusted if they come from large families.

Lastborns

Lastborns are generally considered to be the family "baby" throughout their lives. Because of nurturing from many older family members and the example of their siblings, lastborns from large families tend to develop strong social and coping skills and may even be able to reach some milestones earlier. As a group, they have been found to be the most successful socially and to have the highest self-esteem of all the birth positions.

Youngest children may feel weak and helpless because they compare themselves with older siblings who are able to do more things physically and socially. They may feel that they always have more growing up to do in order to have the privileges they see their older siblings have. Some lastborns develop self-esteem problems if older siblings or parents take power away from these lastborns so that they cannot make decisions or take responsibility. Because of this powerlessness, some lastborns may be grandiose, with big plans that never work out.

Some lastborns transfer this powerlessness into a personal asset by becoming the boss of the family, coyly eliciting or openly demanding their own way. Some families jump to and cater to these lastborns.

Other lastborns engage in sibling rivalry because of the injustices they think they experience because they are the youngest. Some ally with firstborns against middleborns.

Only children

Only children may demonstrate characteristics of firstborns and lastborns. Firstborns, after all, are only children until the first sibling is born. Only children grow up relating to adults in the family but have trouble relating to peers. However, this changes as they reach adulthood and get along well with adults.

Only children are achievement-oriented and most likely to attain academic success and attend college. They may also be creative. But only children can be pampered and spoiled as lastborns and can be self-centered. They may rely on service from others rather than their exert their own efforts. They sometimes please others if it suits them but may also be uncooperative. They can also be over-protected.

Some only children become hypercritical, not tolerating mistakes or failure in themselves or others. They can also transform this perfectionist tendency into rescuing behavior, agonizing over the problems of others and rushing to take over and solve everything without letting others help themselves.

Common problems

Sibling rivalry is a normal part of family life. All children become jealous of the love and attention that siblings receive from parents and other adults. When a new baby comes into the family, older children feel betrayed by their parents and may become angry, directing their anger first toward the parents and later toward the intruder who is usurping their position. Jealousy, resentment, and competition are most intense between siblings spaced less than three years apart. Although a certain amount of sibling rivalry is unavoidable, there are measures that parents can take to reduce its severity and its potential effects on their children.

An older child should be prepared for a new addition to the family by having the situation explained and being told in advance about who will take care of her while her mother is in the hospital having the baby. The child's regular routine should be disturbed as little as possible; it is preferable for the child to stay at home and under the care of the father or another close family member. If there is to be a new babysitter or other caretaker unknown to the child, it is helpful for them to meet at least once in advance. If sibling visits are allowed, the child should be taken to visit the mother and new baby in the hospital.

Once the new baby is home, it is normal for an older child to feel hurt and resentful at seeing the attention lavished on the newcomer by parents, other relatives, and family friends. It is not uncommon for the emotional turmoil of the experience to cause disturbances in eating or sleeping. Some children regress, temporarily losing such attainments as weaning, bowel and bladder control, or clear speech, in an attempt to regain lost parental attention by becoming babies again themselves.

There are a number of ways to ease the unavoidable jealousy of children whose lives have been disrupted by the arrival of a younger sibling. When friends or relatives visit to see the new baby, parents can make the older child feel better by cuddling him or giving him special attention, including a small present to offset the gifts received by the baby. The older child's self-esteem can be bolstered by involving him in the care of the newborn in modest ways, such as helping out when the baby is being diapered or dressed or helping push the stroller. The older child should be made to feel proud of the achievements and responsibilities that go along with his more advanced agethings the new baby cannot do yet because he or she is too young. Another way to make older children feel loved and appreciated is to set aside some quality time to spend alone with each of them on a regular basis. It is also important for parents to avoid overtly comparing their children to each other, and every effort should be made to avoid favoritism.

In general, the most stressful aspect of sibling rivalry is fighting. Physical, as opposed to verbal, fights usually peak before the age of five. It is important for parents not to take sides but rather to help children work out disagreements, calling for a "time out" for feelings to cool down, if necessary. Over-insistence that siblings share can also be harmful. Children need to retain a sense of individuality by developing boundaries with their siblings in terms of possessions, territory, and activities. Furthermore, it is especially difficult for very young children to share their possessions.

Parents should take time to praise cooperation and sharing between siblings as a means of positive reinforcement. The fact that siblings quarrel with each other does not necessarily mean that they will be inconsiderate, hostile, or aggressive in their dealings with others outside the family. The security of family often makes children feel free to express feelings and impulses they are unable to express in other settings.

Parental concerns

Firstborns

Firstborns often feel pressure to succeed or perform well, either by parents or through their own inner drives. They often are called on to take care of younger siblings or do chores because they are responsible. Firstborns also feel pressure to be good examples for their siblings.

Some parents are quick to punish firstborns for not measuring up. Others constantly correct firstborns because they think it will help these children succeed. If firstborns cannot meet these expectations or fear that they cannot, they often become depressed and sometimes resort to suicide to escape the pain they feel.

Parents need to realize that firstborns need not be perfect in order to succeed. They are already eager to please and criticism should be limited to broad strokes rather than focus on minor imperfections. Responsibilities should be meted out in small batches according to their age appropriate abilities. In addition, parents should acknowledge firstborns as people, not the products of their efforts.

When placed in leadership or mentoring roles with their younger siblings, some firstborns may demonstrate aggressive or domineering behavior. They may boss their brothers or sisters around or lord it over them. These behaviors can also transfer to the school setting, making these children uncooperative with their peers. Parents should monitor leadership behavior to make sure these children learn to lead with kindness while respecting other people's feelings.

Secondborns and middle children

Secondborns and middle children often feel invisible. Parents need to make a special effort to seek out their opinions in family discussions. Finding out what special talents or interests these children have and encouraging them through classes or events makes them feel like they matter and are as important as firstborns or lastborns. All of the children in family then feel special and loved as the unique individuals they are.

Lastborns

Youngest children are not usually very responsible because they have not been given the opportunity. Parents can foster responsibility and self-reliance by giving even the youngest child some responsibility, such as setting the table or putting clean clothing in their dresser drawers.

If lastborns are being bullied by older siblings, parents need to step in. Children need help developing strategies for working out difficulties. They can also benefit from hearing parents tell older siblings that it took time for them to do the things that lastborns are struggling to do.

Only children

Parents need to help their only children socialize with other children. They also need to help them accept imperfection in themselves and others by being tolerant of it themselves. In order to keep only children from being rescuers, parents need to help these children develop patience and understanding of differences in others.

KEY TERMS

Birth multiples Children born in multiple births; e.g. twins, triplets, quads, etc.

Sibling rivalry Competition among brothers and sisters in a nuclear family. It is considered to be an important influence in shaping the personalities of children who grow up in middle-class Western societies but less relevant in traditional African and Asian cultures.

See also Sibling rivalry.

Resources

BOOKS

Isaacson, Cliff, and Kris Radish. The Birth Order Effect: How to Better Understand Yourself and Others. Avon, MA: Adams Media Corp., 2002.

Konig, Karl. Brothers and Sisters: The Order of Birth in the Family. Edinburgh, Scotland: Floris Books, 2002.

Krohn, Katherine E. Everything You Need to Know about Birth Order. New York: Rosen, 2000.

Leman, Kevin. The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2004.

Richardson, Donald W. Birth Order and You: Are You the Oldest, Middle, and Youngest Child? Bellingham, WA: Self-Counsel Press, 2004.

PERIODICALS

"Birth Order May Affect Career Interests." USA Today 131, i. 2687 (August 2002): 11.

Renkl, Margaret. "Oldest, Youngest, or in Between: How Your Child's Birth Order Can Affect Her Personalityand What You Can Do to Influence Its Impact." Parenting 16, i. 5 (June 1, 2002): 82+.

Janie Franz

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"Birth Order." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/birth-order

Birth Order

Birth Order


Throughout recorded history, birth order has affected diverse aspects of social, political, and economic life, and this influence continues to manifest itself today in many traditional societies. Especially in previous centuries and in non-Western portions of the world, societies have generally sanctioned practices whereby parents favor some offspring over others. Such patterns of parental favoritism are often associated with birth order. For example, when a child is deformed or when an older child is still breast-feeding, most traditional societies permit infanticide; but no society condones the killing of the older of two siblings.

Through differences in parental investment, birth order sometimes affects the general health and well-being of offspring. Laterborns, for example, are less likely than firstborns to be vaccinated, and in developing countries laterborns tend to be shorter and to suffer higher rates of childhood mortality than do their older siblings. Birth order also appears to influence intelligence and personality, doing so through differences in parental investment, as well as through sibling interactions. These intellectual and behavioral differences affect various aspects of life achievement.

Social and Political Influences

One study of the role of birth order in thirty-nine non-Western societies found that the birth of the first child generally has special significance, stabilizing the marriage and raising the status of the parents. In these same non-Western societies, firstborns were typically found to receive more elaborate birth ceremonies than laterborns, to have power over their younger siblings, to acquire and control more parental property in adulthood, and to carry greater authority with nonfamily members.

Inheritance practices have often been linked to birth order. The system of primogeniture has generally been followed in societies where wealth is largely dependent on land ownership and where land is a scarce resource. Under this system, firstborns or eldest males inherit the bulk of the parental land and propertya practice that limits the subdivision of estates and thereby helps to preserve the patrilineal family and its patronymic. James Boone's 1986 genealogical study of the leading families of medieval Portugal found that eldest sons were 1.6 times more likely than younger sons to leave descendants over a period of two centuries, whereas younger sons were 9 times more likely than firstborns to father offspring out of wedlock. Among daughters, laterborns were often destined for convents and, as a consequence, left fewer descendants than did earlierborn daughters.

Some countries, including Portugal, recognized landless younger sons as a potential threat to political stability. Expansionist military campaigns as well as the Crusades were in part undertaken as a means of exporting these younger sons to distant lands. There, while attempting to distinguish themselves, these younger sons often died in combat or from diseases.

Male primogeniture has long been the custom in the transfer of political power among royalty. Instituted in feudal times, this practice helped to curb the sometimes bloody conflicts among siblings that had previously punctuated royal succession. Although leaders of the Protestant Reformationin the spirit of egalitarian reformsuccessfully called for the abolition of primogeniture in parts of Germany, this practice remains the accepted succession policy in those European countries that still have monarchies.

Other discriminatory systems of inheritance are also known, including secondogeniture (whereby the secondborn child or son inherits the majority of the parental property), and ultimogeniture (the practice of leaving property to the youngest child or son). This last inheritance practice is most commonly found in societies that impose heavy death taxes, because ultimogeniture lengthens the period between taxations.

Sometimes parents have opted for an equitable distribution of their assets to progeny. In medieval Venice, where wealth was based on commercial speculation and where prosperity was often a matter of unforeseeable circumstances, parents generally subdivided their estates in order to maximize the likelihood that at least one offspring would achieve commercial success. In short, although inheritance practices associated with birth order have exhibited considerable historical and geographic variability, the specific form chosen by each family and society has usually made local economic sense.

Birth Order, Intelligence, and Personality

One of the most remarkable discoveries in the field of psychology during the last several decades has been the finding that siblings who grow up together are almost as different as people plucked at random from the general population. Behavioral geneticists have shown that only about 5 percent of the variance in personality from one individual to another is associated with the shared family environmentthat is, growing up in the same home. About 40 percent of the variance in personality appears to be genetic in origin, and another 20 percent is associated with errors in measurement. The remaining 35 percent of the variance is attributable to the nonshared environment (unique experiences that are not shared by siblings).

One important conclusion from this behavioral genetic research is that, for the most part, the family is not a shared environment. One possible source of such nonshared experiences is birth order, since children of different birth orders vary in age, size, and family roles. In addition, siblings compete with one another for parental investment (including love, attention, and scarce resources), and parents sometimes favor one child over another even when they try not to do so.

Darwinian theory predicts such competition among siblings, which has been widely documented among animals, fish, insects, and even plants. The principles of genetics help us in understanding this particular form of Darwinian competition. On average, siblings share only half of their genes, so they are twice as related to themselves as they are to another sibling. Based on the theory of kin selection, siblings are expected to act selfishly toward one another unless the benefits of sharing scarce resources are greater than twice the costs. Siblings therefore tend to develop context-sensitive strategies for optimizing parental investment sometimes at the expense of other siblingsand these strategies are influenced by differences in age, size, power, and status within the family. Birth order is an excellent proxy for these differences.

Prior to about 1800, fewer than half of all human offspring ever reached adulthood, so even slight differences in parental investment, or in the competitive advantages developed by siblings, were sufficient to tip the balance in determining who survived and who did not. By cultivating unique and useful family niches, siblings increase their value within the family system. Firstborns have customarily adopted the role of a surrogate parent, which causes them to be more parent-identified and conservative than younger siblings. Because laterborns cannot baby-sit themselves, they generally seek to develop alternative and unoccupied niches within the family system, a process that seems to involve a predilection for experimentation and openness to experience.

Birth-order research, which encompasses more than two thousand studies, has established a consistent pattern of birth-order differences in personality. These differences can be usefully summarized by the Five Factor Model of personality, which encompasses the dimensions of conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism. As reflected by their frequent role as surrogate parents, firstborns tend to be more conscientious than laterborns. By comparison, laterborns tend to be more open to experience than firstborns, especially in those facets of this personality dimension that involve the questioning of family values or the authority of their elders. Laterborns are also somewhat more agreeable than firstborns, since they generally adopt low-power strategies, including cooperation and acquiescence, that accord with their lesser age, power, and physical size. In addition, laterborns are more extraverted than firstborns in the specific sense of being fun-loving, excitement seeking, and sociable. Finally, firstborns and laterborns both manifest aspects of neuroticism, but in different ways. Firstborns are more neurotic in the sense of being anxious about loss of power and status, whereas laterborns are more neurotic in the sense of being self-consciousan attribute that probably stems from their tendency to compare themselves with older and more accomplished sibling models.

Compared with birth-order differences in personality that are measured within the family, those documented in extrafamilial contexts tend to be less pronounced. Still, there is considerable evidence that birth-order differences in personality and behavior manifest themselves in nonfamilial contextsespecially when these behavioral contexts resemble those previously encountered within the family. To cite an example documented by Catherine Salmon, firstborns and laterborns respond differently to political speeches that use the terms brother and sister as opposed to friend.

Extensive research indicates that firstborns tend to have higher IQs than laterborns, although this difference is small (IQ is reduced about one point with each successive birth rank in the family). Explanations for these findings have generally focused on the consequences of increasing family size, since children from large families have lower IQs than children from small families. According to Robert Zajonc's confluence model, the addition of younger siblings impoverishes the family's intellectual environment because children are less intellectually proficient than adults. This theory predicts that firstborns will tend to have higher IQs than laterborns because firstborns spend more time alone with their parents, and more time in smaller sibling groups.

Birth Order and World History

Differences in personality and behavior related to birth order sometimes reflect themselves onto the stage of world history. The tendency for firstborns to receive greater parental investment than laterborns, and in turn to be more conscientious and have higher IQs, fosters greater achievement and has led to an overrepresentation of firstborns among people listed in Who's Who and other biographical encyclopedias. Similarly, firstborns have tended to be over-represented among world leaders, successful writers, and famous scientists (including Nobel Prize winners). By contrast, laterborns have been historically prominent as explorers and as leaders of radical political and social upheavals, including the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and other noteworthy episodes of radical social and political change. The expression of these birth-order differences is generally context sensitivethat is, dependent on local circumstances. For example, in Catholic countries during the Reformation, laterborns were more likely than firstborns to undergo martyrdom for supporting the Reformed faith; but in Protestant countries such as England, firstborns were more likely than laterborns to be martyred for their resistance to Protestant reforms.

In the history of science, birth order has often played a role during times of radical theory change. Laterborns such as Nicholas Copernicus (the youngest of four children) and Charles Darwin (the fifth of six children) pioneered revolutions in science that challenged both the scientific status quo and associated religious dogma. Other laterborns, such as Francis Bacon and René Descartes, led the seventeenth-century assault on scholastic learning and Aristotelian dogma, culminating in the Scientific Revolution. Even when firstborns have initiated major revolutions in sciencesuch as those led by Isaac Newton, Antoine Lavoisier, and Albert Einsteinthe earliest supporters of these revolutions have tended to be laterborns. Laterborns nevertheless possess a decided Achilles heel when it comes to initiating and supporting revolutionary science. They have generally promoted radical but failed revolutions such as phrenology (the nineteenth-century notion that bumps on the head reveal character and personality) just as eagerly as they have endorsed successful revolutions such as Darwinism, quantum mechanics, and plate tectonics. For this reason, there is no evidence that laterborns are more creative than firstborns. Rather, firstborns and laterborns are each capable of creativity, but in different ways. In particular, firstborns tend to create within the system, whereas laterborns are more likely to create by questioning the status quo.

Conclusion

Owing to its influence on inheritance practices as well as social and political life, birth order appears to have exerted greater impact on people's lives in past centuries than it does today. Still, birth order continues to shape personality and behavior by influencing parental investment, as well as by affecting sibling strategies for increasing parental investment. In large part through behavioral genetic studies, psychologists have learned that the family is not primarily a shared environment. Most environmental influences on personality appear to owe themselves to nonshared experiences, including some that are attributable to birth order. In addition to shaping personality and behavior, birth order also exerts an influence on familial sentiments. Individual differences in family sentiments mediate loyalties to the family, degree of contact with parents and other close relatives, and attitudes toward parental authority. In past centuries, these birth-order differences have often played themselves out during radical revolutions, providing a link between the formative experiences of childhood and the course of world history. Even today birth order continues to shape differences in personality and behavior that, in meaningful ways, affect overall life experience.

See also: Family Patterns.

bibliography

Boone, James L. 1986. "Parental Investment and Elite Family Structure in Preindustrial States: A Case Study of Late MedievalEarly Modern Portuguese Genealogies." American Anthropologist 88: 859-78.

Costa, Paul T., Jr., and Robert R. McCrae. 1992. NEO PR-R Professional Manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Daly, Martin, and Margo Wilson. 1988. Homicide. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Dunn, Judy, and Robert Plomin. 1990. Separate Lives: Why Siblings Are So Different. New York: Basic Books.

Fichtner, Paula Sutter. 1989. Protestantism and Primogeniture in Early Modern Germany. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Herlihy, David. 1989. "Family and Property in Renaissance Florence." In The Medieval City, ed. David Herlihy and A. L. Udovitch, pp. 3-24. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hertwig, Ralph, Jennifer Nerissa Davis, and Frank J. Sulloway. 2002. "Parental Investment: How an Equity Motive Can Produce Inequality." Psychological Bulletin 128: 728-45.

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer, and Debra Judge. 1993. "Darwin and the Puzzle of Primogeniture." Human Nature 4: 1-45.

Rosenblatt, Paul C., and Elizabeth L. Skoogberg. 1974. "Birth Order in Cross-Cultural Perspective." Developmental Psychology 10: 48-54.

Salmon, Catherine. 1998. "The Evocative Nature of Kin Terminology in Political Rhetoric." Politics and the Life Sciences 17: 51-57.

Salmon, Catherine, and Martin Daly. 1998. "Birth Order and Familial Sentiments: Middleborns are Different." Human Behaviorand Evolution 19: 299-312.

Sulloway, Frank J. 1996. Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives. New York: Pantheon.

Sulloway, Frank J. 2001. "Birth Order, Sibling Competition, and Human Behavior." In Conceptual Challenges in Evolutionary Psychology: Innovative Research Strategies, ed. Harmon R. Holcomb III, pp. 39-83. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Zajonc, Robert B. 2001. "The Family Dynamic of Intellectual Development." Psychological Review 82: 74-88.

Frank J. Sulloway

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Birth Order

Birth order

A chronological sequence of the birth of children in a family.

Research has correlated birth order with such aspects of life as temperament and behavior. For example, first-born children, when compared to their siblings, tend to score slightly higher on intelligence tests and to attain a slightly higher socioeconomic status. Some psychologists believe that birth order is a significant factor in the development of personality .

The psychologist Alfred Adler pioneered a study of relationships between birth order and personality. As part of his view that patients need to be understood in the context of their family environments, Adler hypothesized that a child's position in the family is associated with certain problems that are responded to in similar ways by other children in the same birth position. Adler stressed that it was not the numerical birth position itself that mattered but rather the situation that tended to accompany that position, and the child's reaction to it. Thus, for example, first-born children, when compared to their siblings, tend to have a greater chance of developing feelings of inferiority as their focal position in the family structure is altered by the birth of a sibling. Later-born children, on the other hand, tend to have stronger social skills, having had to deal with siblings throughout their lives, as opposed to first-borns, who have their parents to themselves initially and thus have their first socialization experiences with adults only. Later-borns, having had to compromise more at home, are better equipped to develop the flexibility that

SIBLING RIVALRY

Sibling rivalry is a normal part of family life. All children become jealous of the love and attention that siblings receive from parents and other adults. When a new baby is brought home, older children feel betrayed by their parents and become angry, directing their anger first toward the parents and later toward the intruder who is usurping their position. Jealousy, resentment, and competition are most intense between siblings spaced less than three years apart. Although a certain amount of sibling rivalry is unavoidable, there are measures that parents can take to reduce its severity and its potential effects on their children.

An older child should be prepared for a new addition to the family by having the situation explained and being told in advance about who will take care of her while her mother is in the hospital having the baby. The child's regular routine should be disturbed as little as possible; it is preferable for the child to stay at home and under the care of the father or another close family member. If there is to be a new babysitter or other caretaker unknown to the child, it is helpful for them to meet at least once in advance. If sibling visits are allowed, the child should be taken to visit the mother and new baby in the hospital.

Once the new baby is home, it is normal for an older child to feel hurt and resentful at seeing the attention lavished on the newcomer by parents, other relatives, and family friends. It is not uncommon for the emotional turmoil of the experience to cause disturbances in eating or sleeping. Some children regress developmentally, temporarily losing such attainments as weaning, bowel and bladder control, or clear speech, in an attempt to regain lost parental attention by becoming babies again themselves.

There are a number of ways to ease the unavoidable jealousy of children whose lives have been disrupted by the arrival of a younger sibling. When friends or relatives visit to see the new baby, parents can make the older child feel better by cuddling him or giving him special attention, including a small present to offset the gifts received by the baby. The older child's self-esteem can be bolstered by involving him in the care of newborn in modest ways, such as helping out when the baby is being diapered or dressed, or helping push the carriage. The older child should be made to feel proud of the attainments and responsibilities that go along with his more advanced agethings the new baby can't do yet because he is too young. Another way to make older children feel loved and appreciated is to set aside some "quality time" to spend alone with each of them on a regular basis. It is also important for parents to avoid overtly comparing their children to each other, and every effort should be made to avoid favoritism.

In general, the most stressful aspect of sibling rivalry is fighting. (Physicalas opposed to verbalfights usually peak before the age of five). It is important for parents not to take sides but rather to insist that the children work out disagreements themselves, calling for a temporary "time out" for feelings to cool down, if necessary. Any form of parental involvement in squabbling by siblings can create a triangle that perpetuates hostilities. Over-insistence that siblings share can also be harmful: to retain a sense of individuality, children need some boundaries from their siblings in terms of possessions, territory, and activities. Furthermore, it is especially difficult for very young children to share their possessions.

Parents should take time to praise cooperation and sharing between siblings as a means of positive reinforcement. The fact that siblings quarrel with each other does not necessarily mean that they will be inconsiderate, hostile, or aggressive in their dealings with others outside the family. The security of family often makes children feel free to express feelings and impulses they are unable to in other settings.

can make their subsequent relationships more successful. It has also been posited that birth order influences one's choice of a marriage partner. The "duplication hypothesis" advanced by Walter Toman (1976) states that people seek to duplicate their sibling relationships in marriage, a duplication that includes birth order.

More specific research on the effects of birth order has generally focused on five ordinal birth positions: first-born, second-born, middle, last, and only-born child in a family. Studies have consistently linked first-born children and academic achievement. The number of first-born National Merit Scholarship winners was found to equal the number of second- and third-borns combined. Separate studies have found high academic achievement levels among first-borns in both urban ghettoes in the United States and at British universities. First-born children are generally responsible, assertive, and task-oriented, often rising to leadership positions as adults. They are more frequently mentioned in Who's Who publications than individuals in any other birth position and are overrepresented among members of Congress and U.S. presidents. Studies have also found that first-born students are especially vulnerable to stress and tend to seek the approval of others. Adler found that there were more first-borns than later-borns among problem children.

Second-born and/or middle children tend to feel inferior to the older child or children, since they do not realize that their lower level of achievement is a function of age. They often try to succeed in areas not excelled in by their elder siblings. Middle-born children have shown a relatively high level of success in team sports, and both they and last-borns have been found to be better adjusted emotionally if from large families. Studies have also found middle children to be sensitive to injustice and likely to have aesthetic interests. Generally trusting, accepting, and other-centered, they tend to maintain relationships successfully.

The last-born child, never dethroned as the "baby" of the family, often exhibit a strong sense of security and noncompetitiveness. As a group, last-borns are most successful socially and have the highest self-esteem levels of all the birth positions. One study found last-borns more likely than first-borns or only children to join a fraternity or sorority. Like youngest children, only children are never displaced as the youngest in the family. With only adult models to emulate within the family, only children are achievement-oriented and most likely to attain academic success and attend college. However, studies show that only children have the most problems with close relationships and the lowest need for affiliation . They are also the most likely to be referred for help with psychiatric disorders.

Sibling rivalry frequently erupts in households with two or more children, competing for the time, attention and affection of parents. The ages of children, and the years between them, can influence the degree and intensity of of fighting and arguing. First borns may resent responsibility placed upon them for their siblings. Middle children may feel "squeezed out" while last-borns may play on their baby position in the family. Mental health experts advise parents to listen to their children's feelings rather than deny their feelings or convince them to feel differently. To lessen the tensions, experts suggest that parents find time to spend with each child and share in each child's interests.

Further Reading

Leman, Kevin. The New Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. Grand Rapids, Mich.: F.H. Revell, 1998.

Toman, Walter. Family Constellation: Its Effects on Personality and Social Behavior. New York: Springer Pub. Co., 1993

Wallace, Meri. Birth Order Blues: How Parents Can Help Their Children Meet the Challenges of Birth Order. New York: H. Holt, 1999.

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Birth Order

Birth Order

Birth order refers to the order in which siblings are born into a family. Although siblings may be ranked numerically according to their order of appearance, four positions typically are recognized: first, middle, youngest, and only child. Only one sibling may occupy the first, youngest or only positions, but many children can be classified as middle.

Alfred Adler (1927, 1956) was the first psychologist to theorize about the effects of birth order on personality development (Stewart and Stewart 1995). Adler (1927) believed that parents' responses to their children were affected by the order of each child's birth into the family. This differential treatment of each child based on birth order position was believed to influence the child's developing personality. Since the inception of Adler's theories, more than 1,700 journal articles and dissertations have been written about birth order and its relationship to a wide variety of psychological topics. Two of the most popular areas of inquiry include personality traits and intellectual achievement (Rodgers et al. 2000; Stewart and Stewart 1995).


Birth Order and Personality

Birth order theories enjoy popular appeal because they provide an intuitive and commonsense explanation for the personality differences between siblings of different birth ranks. Additionally, the publication of popular resources, such as Kevin Leman's Birth Order Book (1985), that attribute myriad individual differences to birth order can create the impression that birth order plays a very significant role in personality development.

From 1976 to the end of the twentieth century researchers conducted more than 141 studies of the relationship between birth order and personality. The methodologically sound studies among this number generally have revealed few reliable differences in personality variables due to birth order (Dunn and Plomin 1990; Ernst and Angst 1983; Jefferson, Herbst, and McCrae 1998; Parker 1998; Phillips 1998; Stewart, Stewart, and Campbell 2001).

Frank Sulloway's book Born to Rebel (1996) generated renewed interest in birth order and personality research by contending that firstborn children are more responsible, competitive, and conventional, while laterborns are more playful, cooperative, and rebellious. Although Sulloway's rationale of niche-picking within the family is compelling, the hypothesized relationships have received only marginal support using the big-five model of personality, which comprises the traits of neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Jefferson et al. 1998). Within-family studies have yielded slightly more support for Sulloway's theory (Paulhus, Trapnell, and Chen 1999). Overall, studies of the relationship between birth order and personality have yielded very small effect sizes at best. Consequently, one can question whether birth order and personality effects either are noticeable in everyday life or possess significance for clinical practice. It is likely that birth order and personality effects are more apparent than they are real.

Psychological Birth Order

Adlerian psychology and contributions from developmental psychology and role theory suggest that personality variables may relate more meaningfully to the roles that siblings construct or are ascribed rather than to actual birth order (Adler 1927; Hoffman 1991). That is, although a child may be the youngest, the gender mix of the siblings, the differences in ages, and other unique variables may combine to create a firstborn role for the youngest child.

Studies that have measured the perceived or psychological birth order of young adults revealed that 45 percent of men and 52 percent of women have a distinctive sibling role in their families and that psychological and actual birth order is in agreement for 19 percent of people (Campbell, White, and Stewart 1991; Stewart and Campbell 1998). Further, sibling roles may mediate the effects of actual birth order and family atmosphere on personality traits (Stewart, Stewart, and Campbell 2001). Consequently, research using sibling or family roles may be more revealing than studies relying upon actual birth order, especially those that simply split participant samples into firstborn versus laterborn; this may mask the important effects of the nonshared family environment.


Birth Order and Intellectual Achievement

In addition to personality, birth order research has also largely focused on its relation to intelligence and scholastic achievement. The literature in this area reveals inconsistent results that have stemmed largely from confounding variables present in many birth order studies, including socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and age of participants (Rodgers et al. 2000; Steelman 1985; Sulloway 1996). Additionally, much of the research in this area indicates that birth order effects are inextricably related to family size, with stronger effects appearing in larger families (Heer 1985; Sputa and Paulson 1995).

Even studies of the effects of family size have been equivocal. Joseph Rodgers and colleagues (2000) analyzed the relationships of birth order and family size to the intelligence quotient (IQ) within families using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Their results suggest that neither birth order nor family size directly affects IQ; rather, it is the parents' IQ that is more likely to influence both family size and children's IQ levels.

Several studies found achievement motivation, rather than intelligence, to be associated with ordinal position in the family (Vandergriff and Rust 1985). Later research on birth order and achievement began to focus on aspiration levels and achievement attributions more than simply on academic achievement. Firstborns attribute success or failure to internal causes and may even underestimate how their situations might have affected success, compared to laterborns (Phillips and Phillips 1994).

Toni Falbo (1981) observed a significant relationship between birth order and competitiveness. First and middle children scored significantly higher than lastborns on competitiveness. Only children did not differ significantly from any of the other groups on this variable. William Snell, Linda Hargrove, and Toni Falbo (1986) explored the relationship between birth order and achievement motivation and found a significant correlation between birth order and one specific facet of achievement motivation, competitiveness. It may be that the presence of competitiveness mediates the relationship between birth order and achievement.

See also:Academic Achievement; Favoritism/Differential Treatment; Primogeniture; Self-Esteem; Sibling Relationships


Bibliography

adler, a. (1927). understanding human nature. gardencity, ny: garden city publishers.

adler, a. (1956). "the origin of the neurotic disposition."in the individual psychology of alfred adler, ed. h. l. ansbacher and r. r. ansbacher. new york: basic books.

campbell, l. f.; white, j.; and stewart, a. e. (1991). "therelationship of psychological birth order to actual birth order." individual psychology 47:380–391.

falbo, t. (1981). "relationships between birth category,achievement, and interpersonal orientation." journal of personality and social psychology 41:121–131.

heer, d. m. (1985). "effects of sibling number on childoutcome." annual review of sociology 11:27–47.

hoffman, l. w. (1991). "the influence of the family environment on personality: accounting for sibling differences." psychological bulletin 110:187–203.

leman, k. (1985). the birth order book: why you are theway you are. grand rapids, mi: spire books.

paulhus, d. l.; trapnell, p. d.; and chen, d. (1999). "birthorder effects on personality and achievement within families." psychological science 10:482–488.

phillips, a. s., and phillips, c. r. (1994). "birth order andachievement attributions." individual psychology 50:119–124.

rodgers, j. l.; cleveland, h. h.; van den oord, e.; androwe, d. c. (2000). "resolving the debate over birth order, family size, and intelligence." american psychologist 55:599–612.

snell, w. e.; hargrove, l.; and falbo, t. (1986). "birthorder and achievement motivation configurations inwomen and men." individual psychology: journal of adlerian theory, research, and practice 42:428–438.


sputa, c. l., and paulson, s. e. (1995). "birth order andfamily size: influences on adolescents' achievement and related parenting behaviors." psychological reports 76:43–51.


steelman, l. c. (1985). "a tale of two variables: a review of the intellectual consequences of sibship size and birth order." review of educational research 55:353–386.

stewart, a. e., and campbell, l. f. (1998). "validity andreliability of the white-campbell psychological birth order inventory." journal of individual psychology 54:41–60.

stewart, a. e., and stewart, e. a. (1995). "trends in birthorder research: 1976–1993." individual psychology: journal of adlerian theory, research and practice 51:21–36.

stewart, a. e.; stewart, e. a.; and campbell, l. f. (2001)."the relationship of psychological birth order to the family atmosphere and to personality." journal of individual psychology 57:363–387.


sulloway, f. j. (1996). born to rebel: birth order, familydynamics, and creative lives. new york: pantheon books.

vandergriff, l., and rust, j. o. (1985). "the relationship between classroom behavior and self-concept." education 106:172–178.

gloria m. montes de oca

alan e. stewart

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