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No matter where you fall in the birth order, chances are you’ve heard these common stereotypes: The older sibling is responsible, the youngest is the baby, and the middle child is ignored. Well, according to one study, at least two of these adages may hold some weight.
The results of a new study conducted by the British market research firm YouGov found that 46 percent of last-borns are the funniest in their families compared to 36 percent of their admittedly more serious older siblings.
Younger sibs also claimed to be the family favorite and were more easygoing by nature. On the flipside, they also admitted to being less responsible, organized, and confident than their older siblings. Whether these traits are innate or shaped by the environment is tough to say, but the study authors suspect family dynamics play a role.
It’s possible that first borns are more responsible because they’re raised under nervous first-time parents who generally want to parent “by the book.” By the time a sibling arrives, parents tend to shift their attention to the newest addition and as a result, first borns are promoted to a bigger, more mature family role. What’s more, second-time parents are experienced so they’re usually more relaxed with subsequent babies, resulting in a more carefree approach to parenting. The result can be an older child who feels capable and a doted-upon younger one who enjoys the spotlight.
The study of birth order is given much weight by psychologists and self-proclaimed “birth order experts.” And there’s plenty of research to support the idea that birth order is a legitimate field of study. One large Norwegian study of 250,000 people found a small but consistent link between last borns and lower IQs. Another study published in the Journal of Career Assessment showed that where one falls in the birth order can determine their career, with first borns gravitating toward analytical jobs and younger borns to artsy fields.
“We know that personality traits are determined by two things — genetics and environment — and birth order is part of the environmental influence,” Catherine Salmon, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Redlands University in California, tells Yahoo Parenting. One possible reason first-borns are generally mature is because they spend more time in an adult-only environment before their sibling is born. They also take on a teaching role with their little siblings which shapes their confidence. Last-borns are usually comfortable in the spotlight, having been pampered by sentimental parents who are finished conceiving.
Ironically, the YouGov study excluded middle children, who are notorious for getting lost in the shuffle. Generally speaking, without a defined role in the family, these kids usually wind up competing for the attention of their parents, acting out in a bid for attention, or in many cases, regulated to the bumpy middle seat during family road trips. Science even substantiates these claims — one study conducted by Stanford University says middle children are more envious and less bold and talkative than their siblings.
And while it can be fun to affectionately toss around birth order stereotypes, be aware of this: “Every child is different and if one feels like he ‘should’ be a leader or the family clown,” says Salmon, “they may feel disappointed if they can’t fulfill such expectations.”