I don’t know about you but for me, being the older sister has felt like being the second parent at times. There’s this unique older sibling experience that happens to be when you’re your parents’ guinea pigs. When I’ve got to talk with friends who are also the eldest, it’s interesting how much-shared experience there is; the automatic dibs on the front seat of car rides and the far-fetched tales we’d convince our younger siblings were real when they were little. Of course, the inherited responsibility of being an older sibling definitely has both its pros and cons, but is it enough to say that this is the meaning of who I am? Let’s dig deeper into the idea that birth order shapes our personality, shall we? Don’t worry, all siblings are included (didn’t forget you middle child peeps).
The Science Behind Birth Order Theory
Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychotherapist, developed the birth order theory in the early 1900s. He proposed that the birth order position in which a child is born significantly affects their personality and life outcomes, including their career and educational success. For example, firstborn children have a certain set of personality traits, while only children have others, and so on. According to Adlerian theory, kids who grow up within the same family can have different experiences. Adler said that your birth order and the number of siblings you have significantly affect your potential and personality.
He also claimed that “psychological birth order” — or your perceived position within your family — is more crucial than numerical birth order, which can sometimes be different. For example, someone may be a middle child but take on oldest-child responsibilities if the chronologically eldest sibling is disabled.
Firstborn Child Personality
Firstborn children benefit from the extra attention given to them before their younger siblings are born. Once younger siblings enter the picture, the firstborn might adopt a pseudo-parent role. The eldest sibling has high expectations placed upon them as they’re expected to set a good example for their siblings. As the de facto leader of the pack, Adlerian theory states that firstborn children tend to be authoritarian and feel entitled to power. They find themselves in leadership positions as adults. Research also shows that firstborns may have slightly higher intelligence than their younger siblings.
According to this theory, traits of the firstborn or oldest child include:
Middle Child Personality
The “middle child syndrome” cliché comes from Adlerian birth order theory. The middle child can often feel lost in the shuffle in a sense, and they can get less attention than their siblings. They feel like they’ve been robbed of any position of significance within the family. In response to this, middle children can become competitive or rebellious in order to differentiate themselves from their siblings and that garners their parents’ attention. This can have them find their identity more through their relationships with friends and peers. Their positioning in the center of the family also makes them great negotiators and peacekeepers as they see both sides of the problem.
According to this theory, traits of the middle child include:
- people pleaser
- social butterfly
The youngest child is the “baby” of the family, and this position is never taken away from them. By the time parents reach their youngest, they know the drill. Parents tend to be more confident in their abilities to raise a child, so their approach to the youngest is often more relaxed and lenient. As a result, the youngest child can become spoiled by the parents and older siblings in the family. Which is why the youngest child tends to evade responsibility. Known for being charismatic, free-spirited, and mischievous, the youngest is up for an adventure and willing to take a risk. Youngest children are usually wanting to become “bigger” instead of being the perpetual baby.
According to this theory, traits of the youngest child include:
Only Children Personality
The only child is raised in a unique household: With no siblings around, they don’t have to worry about sharing clothes, space, or their parents’ attention. Since they often don’t have to share their parents with siblings though, they may have difficulty sharing attention and belongings as they age. The only child may be more rigid and grow up faster because they’re hanging out with a lot of adults. As kids, they talk and act like “little adults.” Similar to long-term firstborns, only children are the primary recipients of their parents’ support and energy—making them independent, mature, and stubborn.
According to this theory, traits of the only child include: