The idea that your personality could be affected by birth order has long been considered possible. So we set out to explore whether the eldest, middle, and youngest child stereotypes are accurate. Are first borns really the bossy, independent ones? And are youngest children really the most fun? We’re all aware of the old adage that says the eldest child is the most responsible and reliable. Most people subscribe to the idea that the youngest is the class clown, or the one that “grows up too quickly.” And then, there’s the popular idea of middle child syndrome. This is when the middle sibling is ‘overlooked’, and so acts out to get parents’ attention. Find out what your birth order says about you below…
And sure, we’d all love to swear that yes, our birth order really does mean that we are the funniest sibling. But is there actually any truth to the stereotypes about sibling meaning and the role that birth order plays in our personalities?
Well, recent research suggests that there might be some basis to these stereotypes. The research finds that “in short, it turns out to be true that the oldest child in a family feels a greater weight of responsibility, while the youngest child feels a higher level of breathing room.”
Intrigued? We take a look at whether or not these ideas really do hold up…
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The First Born
The stereotype: People generally hold the view that the first-born in any family is the most adult-like. They’re usually seen to be ambitious, responsible, and desperate for the approval of parents, teachers, and bosses.
Is it true? Generally speaking, yes. Experts believe that it all ties back to their formative years. When the eldest child is born, they are the sole focus of the parents’ love and attention. So, the oldest is often said to be the most mature, and most capable of taking on responsibilities.
However, even if the eldest sibling is generally seen as the most put together, the pressure of trying to please can easily get to them. According to clinical psychologist Linda Blair, the eldest is apparently more likely to suffer feelings of anxiety and insecurity, due to losing the attention of parents when the second child comes along. But, because of the first-born’s reliance on authority figures, they’re more likely to seek help from a professional – which can only be a good thing.
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The Middle Child
The stereotype: Middle children are often seen as the rebels, acting up against the older sibling. There’s also an idea that the middle sibling is always vying for their parents’ attention. This can result in them being jealous and stubborn. Children in the middle are also regarded as the social butterfly of the family.
Is it true? The sibling stuck in the middle is actually, scientifically, the peace-keeper. One of the co-authors of The Secret Power of Middle Children, Catherine Salmon says, “Middle-borns don’t have the rights of the oldest or privileges of the youngest”. So, rather than rebelling they’ll often try to become experts at negotiating.
However, the middle child doesn’t usually have the weight of their parents’ expectations on them in the same way the eldest did. This could result in them being more relaxed than any of their elder siblings. It could also possibly explain why they’re seen as the most sociable.
And new research suggests that being the middle sibling definitely isn’t a bad thing – quite the opposite in fact. Katrin Schumann, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children has said that her research has found middle-borns to often be the most successful of their siblings. Take Bill Gates and Britney Spears for example, two highly successful middle-born children.
However, the middle-born might not have had rules as strict as their older siblings. They’re usually concerned with mediating between everyone else – this can mean that their feelings can get left to one side.
The Youngest Child
The stereotype: Adjectives used to describe the youngest child of the family usually include: the ‘joker’ or the ‘spoiled’ one. They’re generally seen as the baby of the family who needs looking after (and their personality adjusts accordingly).
Is it true? Linda Blair says the youngest child is often dependent, having (most likely) been looked after by the parents and older siblings.
However, the youngest is often the most carefree and, as such, more of a risk-taker. Psychologists believe that this is because parents are often less cautious by the time the youngest child joins the family. They’ve already been through a tidal wave of worries and concerns so they’re calmer by the time it comes to the youngest.
The Only Child
The stereotype: There’s a perception that if you’re the only child in a family, you’ll have been lavished with attention and praise. This might translate into an adult who isn’t particularly well-equipped to deal with the real world.
Is it true? Luckily, this is one stereotype which doesn’t ring true. Newman has found that “the studies all show that only children are not [all] spoiled.” And only children aren’t necessarily lonely either… Only children are said to have the same amount of friends as children from multi-sibling families.
However, Dr Carl Pickhardt, a family therapist, has said that only children do tend to be over-confident. This is due to them mostly being around adults in the home environment. Pickhardt says, “they tend to be comfortable dealing with adult authorities…because to some degree they put themselves on the same standing.”