For years, scientists and psychologists have grappled with the question whether first-borns are smarter than their siblings at all.
The order of birth in children has an impact on their personality. Alfred Adler was one of the first proponents of this view. Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937) was an Austrian medical doctor and a neo-analytic psychologist who founded the school of individual psychology and gave many key concepts in psychology.
In the year 1954, he developed a theory concerning birth order of children and its influence on personality. He argued that the order of birth governed the major characteristics of an individual’s personality. He believed it had an impact on the way an individual dealt with situations later on in life. So, the order of birth, according to Adler did not only have an impact on the way a child is treated, but also impacted his behavior as an adult. His theory assigns a different set of characteristics to each order.
Children who are first borns are perfectionists, more dependable, ambitious and seek affiliation. They experience a ‘dethronement’ when the second child arrives: due to this they feel inferior and overcompensate by becoming over achievers. Research has shown them to have more control of their emotional expressions. They tend to follow rules better, and are more achievement-oriented.They are robbed off of their parents’ attention when the second child arrives.
The middle children have it a little easier in comparison. They feel more superior over their elder siblings’ dethronement while at the same time being dominating over their younger siblings. However, they are often considered level-headed and are the peacemakers of the family. The second borns tend to grow up to be more competitive than the first borns. As they have to share their parents’ love/attention, they’re put into a role of competing for the same with the first born. They are known to consistently attempt betterment, and are usually known to master the limitations of the first born. The two children, hence grow up with opposite traits and personalities.
The youngest children of the family are the most pampered. They are protected, but may feel inferior because they are not given as much freedom and responsibility as their elder siblings may get. They are very dependent on their parents and this may cause them to have feelings of selfishness. They can be manipulative and attention seeking. In contrast, they’re also known to develop very confident personalities, are fun loving and outgoing.
Only children are at an advantage because they are independent and high achievers. They’re mature, diligent and conscientious. They do not have to share their parents’ attention. They are ambitious. Being an only child, they do not get enough experience of sharing and cooperation in relationships. They are used to getting all of their parents’ attention.
According to the Big Five Personality Trait theory, there are five dominant traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) that represent personality; and the measurement of these five traits can account for the measurement of personality. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “the development of personality is less determined by the role within the family of origin than previously thought." In a study conducted by Julia Rohrer, more than 20,000 adults from the U.S., U.K. and Germany were compared not only within their families, but also against other groups of siblings. After participants were surveyed about their birth order, IQ score and personality, researchers determined there was a lack of correlation between each. The study found no effect of birth order on any of the Big Five Personality traits; however, it could successfully estbalish that the oldest child was the smartest. The study also established that the differences in personalities were too small to present a definite correlation between personality and birth order. A possible reason for the oldest child being the most intelligent was accounted to the fact that first timer parents pay a lot attention to their childs' education.
So, if birth order does not affect the most important elements of personality, can we account it for having any impact at all? The answer is yes. While birth order does not affect the Big Five Traits, it certainly appears to impact intelligence.
Recent research has also established the same fact; first borns are indeed smarter than their siblings. Conducted by the University of Ediburgh, the study was published in the Journal of Human Resources. In it, 5,000 children completed reading and picture vocabulary tests every two years till 14 years of age. It was found that first borns had higher IQ test scores beginning as young as one year old. The reason for these scores this was attributed to more mental stimulation from parents by first borns. According to researchers, this study goes on to explain the birth order theory by Adler in the sense that it concludes first borns to be better and smarter than the rest of their siblings. This was because they scored more on tests including reading, matching letters, names, reading single words aloud and picture vocabulary tests in comparison to other children.
It is important to note here that Adler's theory never quoted the fact that first borns were better than their siblilngs. He only associated certain traits that are unique to an individual's birth order and postulated them to have an effect on their personality. It is the recent research that has advanced his theory. While the two studies have established the superiority of intelligence among first borns, they have not quantified a link between birth order and personality. Perhaps future research could shed a little light on this topic.
But for now, first borns can rejoice!