Where you exist in your family’s birth order can profoundly inform your path in life, whether because of genetics or simply the way that family members tend to treat firstborns vs. middle children vs. youngest children. Psychologists have been debating the “Why?” since the 1800s, but, as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, the outcome is certain regardless of the cause – the effects of birth order last for a lifetime...
Via ConvergEx's Nick Colas,
For example, firstborn kids are often rules-following and do better in society, while younger children tend to be revolutionaries, artists and so forth. Only children generally act like firstborns. Today’s Note from ConvergEx explains how birth order matters through the lens of a top 10 list of things you should know about birth order psychology. After all, much of business and investing depends on your ability to evaluate people, and this is another useful tool.
Note From Nick: If you had to size up a stranger and you could only ask them one question, what would it be? For me, the answer is simple: “Where are you in the birth order of your siblings?” Are you a first/only child, or a later born? As Beth outlines today, the answer is quite telling. By virtue of genetics or childrearing (the debate rages there), birth order matters a lot to the person you become.
Question: What do Hillary Clinton, Marissa Mayer, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé have in common? Answer: They are all firstborn girls. Who all happen to be on the Forbes list of most powerful women in the world. And if you consult findings from the vast field of birth order psychology, you’ll see that there is probably more than coincidence at play here. A study released just last month found that firstborn girls are statistically the most likely to succeed among any combination of birth order and gender, for the simple explanation that parents devote more time and energy to them. It could be that they are more intelligent too, but evidence points to the role of parental investment as the leading cause.
Well what about Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Aristotle? They were all adopted. And according to Adam Pertman, author of a book on the subject titled Adoption Nation, adopted people “feel more compelled to show that they can do it” due to a sense of loss of their original family. A feeling of rejection often pushes adopted children to wonder if they are good enough and whether they are the reason their original family is no longer intact. As a result, they’re predisposed to prove their worthiness and avoid another tragedy.
While birth order is not the end all be all – for example Ted Bundy was also adopted – it certainly impacts our personality and therefore the course of our lives. Success in the business world is partly dependent on your ability to read people and understand their emotional intelligence, of which birth order plays a key role. Thus we’ve compiled a top 10 list of things you should keep in mind about birth order psychology and how it factors into our lives. Read on for the details…
1) More than half of Nobel prizewinners and U.S. presidents are firstborn children, as were 21 of the first 23 astronauts into space. Again, there is more than coincidence at play here because the general psychological consensus is that firstborns are natural leaders and perfectionists who tend to be ambitious and possess strong drive and determination. As a result, they gravitate toward professions requiring precision such as careers in science, medicine, law, engineering, computer science and accounting, according to research published in Science Daily.
2) Secondborns and middle children are the most likely to become professional athletes. They often feel inferior to their older siblings and thus are fiercely competitive, leading them to excel at team sports. This competition also pushes them to be innovative in coming up with ways to stand out from other siblings, and they also learn to become good negotiators and compromisers, which causes may to possess superior social skills later in life. Popular career choices include trial lawyers or social activists, who may be attempting to capitalize on a sense of injustice from being overlooked by the demands of their oldest and youngest sibling (also according to research published in Science Daily).
3) Lastborns are the most self-confident and socially successful. As the “baby” of the family, lastborns develop strong social and coping skills as a result of being nurtured by older family members. They learn from older siblings and therefore tend to reach some milestones earlier in life. They also tend to be affectionate, creative and spontaneous and thrive on being center of attention while blaming others for their mistakes.
4) Only children get the highest grades, but they struggle in kindergarten – socially. Ohio State researchers studying how kindergarteners make friends found that those without siblings have poorer social skills vs. their peers, but by the 5th grade those social skills normalize and as adults there is no lingering effect. Additionally, a study published in the American Sociological Review found that siblings hurt a child academically, as the greater the family size the less time parents spend talking to each child about school and the less they save for college. Parents of larger families also have lower educational expectations for each child and fewer available educational materials.
5) Each additional sibling you have reduces that likelihood that you will divorce by as much as 2%. The same Ohio State researchers as in #4 elaborated that more siblings translates to more experience in dealing with others, which seems to lead to additional assistance in dealing with marriage relationships later on in life. More siblings also means more opportunities to practice negotiating and understanding opposing points of view. Interestingly enough, though, the divorce benefits stop after the 7th sibling. The 8th doesn’t hurt, rather just stops having an effect on communication skills, etc.
6) The greater the age gap between siblings, the better chance the children have to succeed. A study conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex concluded that children are most likely to achieve higher levels of educational attainment if the distance between their siblings is four years or more.
7) Firstborn girls are 13% more ambitious than firstborn boys. According to the same University of Essex study, firstborn girls are statistically the most likely to succeed for this reason, as the extra dose of ambition means that they are more likely to further their education than their male counterparts. Firstborns overall, regardless of gender, are 7% more likely to continue their education than are their brother and sisters.
8) There is a negative correlation between birth order and IQ. Psychologists have been debating this statement for decades, but a recent study by Norwegian epidemiologists Petter Kristensen and Tor Bjerkedal received major respect from the psychological community. Praised for its sheer size (some 250,000 Norwegian constituents) and strict controls for family size, the study deemed that the greater the number of older siblings one has the lower the IQ – albeit not by much.
9) Birth rank among twins, triplets, etc. – though it may be determined by only a matter of minutes – still matters. The firstborn takes on a leadership role for a twin pair, while the secondborn is more compliant and willing to follow, according to multiple studies by the pioneer in the field of birth order psychology, Alfred Adler.
10) Adopted children over the age of five bring their birth order with them. Before the age of five, regardless of whether they are adopted within the family’s birth order, adopted children naturally take on the characteristics as would any child. However, an 8-year-old firstborn adopted child would still have the personality traits of a firstborn even if he/she were adopted into a family with a 12-year old. You can see how conflict might arise…
To sum it up, birth order – and to a broader extent, family life – matters, even though we don’t yet know why it does. There are no hard and fast rules, as in the Steve Jobs/Ted Bundy comparison, but birth order psychology indeed provides a set of loose guidelines that, in conjunction with other analytical tools, can contribute to your understanding of another person – what motivate them, what causes them to succeed and under which circumstances they are likely to fail.