Have you ever questioned the idea that maybe you are the way you are because of the order in which you were born?

From the beginning of time, theories such as this one naturally entice us because we often seek clarity when it comes to understanding ourselves, even if it’s from an outsider’s perspective.

The theory began in the late 1920s with Alfred Adler, a colleague of Sigmund Freud’s. Adler claimed that firstborns are neurotic and self-centered, but are most likely to be leaders. These qualities are inspired when a younger sibling comes around, making them feel “dethroned.” The middle child would be rebellious, independent, and naturally healthier, while the youngest would be immature, spoiled, and outgoing. Can you guess which one Adler was?…(the middle child).

Higher IQ?

The theory that birth order affects your personality and IQ has created quite a divide among researchers. Some dismiss the theory entirely while others are convinced it plays a crucial role. Researchers from the University of Leipzig and Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (both in Germany) studied more than 20,000 adults from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany. In this study, they compared siblings both within the same family, and people with the same birth order across families. They did find that “firstborns score higher on objectively measured intelligence and additionally found a similar effect on self-reported intellect” but “found no birth-order effects on extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, or imagination.”


Another study published in the Journal of Research in Personality confirmed little evidence for personality differences based on birth order. They looked at 377,000 U.S. high-school students.

Researchers looked at the Big Five personality traits:

  • openness
  • agreeableness
  • neuroticism
  • conscientiousness
  • extraversion
They predicted that “firstborns (versus laterborns) should be higher in conscientiousness, neuroticism, and the dominance aspect of extraversion, whereas laterborns should be higher in agreeableness and the sociability aspect of extraversion.”

What they found is that firstborns tended to be more conscientious and dominant, and less sociable, but that they tended to be more agreeable and less neurotic. The problem with this finding is that the effect was so tiny that if they hadn’t looked at hundreds of thousands of people, it wouldn’t have been significant at all.

But again, when it came to intelligence, firstborns did have an advantage—of one IQ point.

Flawed Studies?

In a 2010 article by Ph.D. student Joshua K. Hartshorne, explains that most of these studies are flawed because they dismiss important social factors like ethnicity, education, and wealth. More importantly, he says researchers don’t understand the importance of family size. If in fact oldest siblings are more intelligent (21 of the first 23 astronauts into space were firstborns), than it would be wise to know how many siblings they have. A child from a two-kid family has a 50 percent chance of being a firstborn, whereas a child from a five-kid family has only a 20 percent chance of being a firstborn. More so, families who are wealthier tend to have fewer children. More children mean that parental resources (money, time, and attention) are sparing.

Interestingly so, Hartshorne claims that firstborns are most likely to marry firstborns, middle borns marry middle borns, last borns marry last borns, and only children marry only children. This furthers the belief that a personality is determined with birth order because people are more likely to be attracted to other people of similar personalities.

The Conclusion

The idea of birth order has always perplexed me. I could find these characteristics existed when I looked at any of my friends and the order they placed in their family but then it made me wonder: if any of the roles were switched, could I apply any of the characteristics to them then? Probably. But, when I look at my own family, me being the youngest sibling of 2, I could almost most definitely agree with the personality traits.

It’s funny/sad when you meet someone who says they are the only child. Naturally and unfortunately, there is a bad connotation toward them that has clearly been infiltrated into our psyche from the perceptions our parents have. Which makes the next point so important: birth order isn’t so much about who was born first or last but about the relationship that exists between parent and child, sibling to sibling, and family dynamic as a whole. This delves into the realm of nature vs. nurture.

While I believe there are some truths to this theory, I’m not really interested in trying to fit myself into a box. We are all so much more than our ‘birth order’ and we all carry so many different factors that help us deal with hardships and what we choose to do with our futures. What would it mean if a child was born to a single parent? Or if a parent passed during a second born’s life? Or if they were raised by their grandparents?

In my opinion, a viable study to determine if birth order affects our IQ or personality would have to be done over a span of 50 years or so with every inhibiting and positive family factor to name for a legitimate study to determine how we are.

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