Does Birth Order Shape Personality? Apparently Not!

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya:

So says the latest body of research on the subject according to National Geographic reporting. The idea that birth order was an important influencer of personality gained steam under psychologist Alfred Adler who suggested that first children tended toward conservatism and even neuroticism once siblings entered the family and pushed them out of the center of their parents’ attention, while middle children were “attention grabbers” and the youngest siblings were pampered and, as a result, lazy. For a few decades, other scientists seemed to also find birth order traits, but, over the last decade or so, very large studies have failed to find any impacts from birth order on the “big 5” personality traits of “openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism” (extra points to any of you who could have named the big 5 before this post!).

So if the research is skeptical of a birth order effect, why do so many of us continue to believe that first children are more responsible, etc., etc.? Researchers suggest that when we look at siblings, we may be comparing apples and oranges, especially at young ages when maturity can be markedly affected by a few-year age gap (of course, we expect to see more responsibility from a 12-year-old than an 8-year-old, or at least we should hope to). That doesn’t mean sibling interactions or other family dynamics don’t influence how children develop, but from what science can tell us now, we shouldn’t expect more – or less – or anything different from a child simply because of where they fall in the birth order.

You can learn more about the history of this research in the Nat Geo article here: