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Birth Order Essay

The effects of birth order and how it affects personal characteristics and personal success is one of the oldest theories in psychology. One author states, “your relationship with you parents appears permanently determined by your birth order (“How Your Position Effects Life” 1). Author Dr. Robert B Simmonds asks, “if brothers and sisters are raised by the same parents, how do they end up so different” (1)? What affects a child’s success in life? Is it the parental upbringing of a child or is the order of their birth the determining factor?

Scientists have come to the conclusion that a child’s personality is greatly influenced by birth order. Typically, the first-born child as well as an only child receives the most attention and praise. They also receive the most discipline and tend to grow up the fastest. A first-born and only child’s tendency to be uptight can be blamed on the brand-new parents who are typically overprotective, anxious, tentative, strict and demanding (Craig 2). These new parents may always be pushing for more and looking for a better performance from their child (2). “New parents” ambitions for their children often get channeled most into the first born “this may explain why first borns are thought to be over-represented amongst ambitious achievers” (“How Your Position Effects Life” 1). Lisa Craig states: “first-borns thrive on being in control, on time and organized” (2). They have “a high level of confidence and expect to be taken seriously by those around them. They get more attention and notoriety than anyone else. They get huge amounts of encouragement to achieve” (3). Dr. Frank J. Sulloway, a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts of Technology, states that tough mindedness is a first-born characteristic. First borns often “engage in aggressive behavior in order to get what they want” (285). In her studies of birth order, Helen Koch found that teachers often rated first-borns higher on “anger, quarrelsomeness, cruelty, blaming others, faultfinding, and insistence on rights” (Koch, qtd. in Solloway 285). “As first borns grow up, these precocious abilities remain; they are the ones who go on to succeed in the world” (“The Influence of Birth Order” 3). Walter Toman mentions how the oldest child will naturally learn to be a leader even though their mother’s warn them to stop bossing around their younger brothers and sisters. First-borns look for relationships in which they can be the dominant force (45).

Although “first-borns are reported to be more responsible and achievement orientated than laterborns, laterborns are more socially successful than their older siblings” (Steelman, Lala Carr, and Brian Powell, qtd. in Sulloway 55). Placing a great value on loyalty, middle children often turn to their friends to gain the attention they missed as a child. Middle children also hide their emotions and thoughts better than others do as a result of this lack of parental attention (“The Influence of Birth Order 2). Alred Adler, an early follower of Freud’s, states: “individuals from this birth rank are more cooperative than firstborns. Second-borns try harder than their older siblings, because they are always playing catch-up” (Alfred Adler, qtd. in Sulloway, 55). Middle children are constantly thriving to carve out their own identity (“The Influence of Birth Order” 4). Because parents tend to side with the youngest child in disputes, and the oldest child is the “pioneer- first to enter school, first to reach the problems of being a teenager” the middle child usually ends up feeling neglected by the family (“How Your Position Effects Life 2). Having to grow up with both older and younger siblings, middle borns usually become good negotiators. They are very talented when it comes to dealing with authority figures and with those holding inferior positions (2). They become skilled in negotiation and compromise “because they couldn’t have Mom and Dad all to themselves and get their way” (Craig 6).

Once the last child has entered the family, the parenting has become less rigid and much more relaxed (“How Position in Family Effects Life” 2). The parents may bring up their last child with a more “hands-off approach” (Simmonds 2). This “approach may be the cause of a last-borns difficulty with self-control (“How Your Position Effects Your Life” 2). The last born always feels a need to compete for attention against the first-born, suffering the most from the divided attention of the parents (2). Clowning around, teasing, and showing off are some ways in which last borns gain the attention they so desperately crave (Craig 7). Being cuddled, babied, and spoiled throughout their childhood make these children very people orientated, loving and open (Simmonds 2). However, last borns also grow up more lazy and spoiled (Sulloway 55), with ?tendencies to want things immediately” (“The Influence of Birth Order” 5). They go ahead and do things without thinking of the consequences. When things go wrong, they have difficulty accepting responsibility and often blame others (Craig 7-8). Walter Toman states that the last child will learn how to follow and will choose friends and situations in which they can be dependent (45).

According to author Louis H. Stewart, sibling position plays a critical role in the selection of U.S. presidents and British Prime Ministers. It has been noted that in a majority of elections, once the party primaries are over and two or three candidates are known, the family positioning of each of the candidates are quite similar (37). Albert Somit, Alan Arwine, and Steven A. Peterson have also found that “since 1860 first-borns have won 7 out of the 10 races in which they were pitted against those who come later in the sibling sequence” (29). It has also been noted that first-borns are re-elected more often than non first-borns: “Since 1792, first-borns who sought re-election were triumphant on 8 of 11 occasions; later-borns seeking a second term won 11 of 18 races” (29). The authors’ data also reveal a high incidence of first borns between the periods of 1789-1856 and 1920-1992. These findings however, can be easily explained. Historically, it was the oldest son who usually received an education. It was this “de facto educational requirement” and the small amount of educationally qualified individuals that accounts for the frequency of first-born presidents (28). Somit, Arwine, and Peterson have therefore come to the conclusion that the relationship between birth order and the presidency is non-existent: “?there are no statistically significant relationships between birth order and political behavior” (33).

David P. Campbell, a professor at the University of Minnesota, gathered data that illustrated a high percentage of first-born men and women in a wide range of occupations. For some reason, according to Campbell, “first-borns do better occupationally in our society” (640). Campbell?s data indicate that “among the top occupations, which are generally college educated, the percentage of firstborn in the occupation is over twice that of the lower-status occupations” (640). Two charts revealed that 94% of male-astronauts were first born, and 56% of army officers, generals and admirals were first born (640). As for firstborn women, 58% were chemists, 57% were registered nurses, and 52% were navy officers (642). There are two factors, according to Campbell, that may cause theses outcomes. This first one, although he has no data to support this speculation, is that the firstborn receives more money from the family for his education, making college more accessible. In Daniel Goleman?s article, “Historian Links Birth Order to Innovation” in The New York Times, May 8, 1990, Dr. Judith Blake, a sociologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, agrees with this factor. Dr. Blake feels that it is “how large a family one comes from” that determines one’s success in life (Blake, qtd. in Goleman 3). In Goleman?s article, “Spacing of Siblings Strongly Linked to Success in Life” in The New York Times, May 28, 1985, Blake discusses that an “only child is likely to get three years more of schooling than a child from a family of six, and thus was likely to find greater success in later life?this was only partly due to financial factors” (Blake, qtd. in Goleman 1). The second factor may be the fact that the oldest child is introduced more often into the parent’s occupational world: “C’mon down to the lab with me – you can fool around with the microscope while I clean up some paper work” (641).


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