What Your Birth Order Says About You

Published on 1/23/2021

Having dinner with my partner and another couple, both of which are good friends of mine, we came to an interesting realisation: all four of us were the youngest child of three. I found this remarkable, as we were all quite similar and got on so well. I had grown up with jokes about being the baby of the family and how this influenced me, but this was the first time that my curiosity extended further than jokes. I wanted to know precisely how being the youngest child had led me to adopt the traits that I had.

We like to think that everything is a choice; we became who we wanted to be. But many things were decided for us at birth, such as our birth order. To what extent could being the oldest or youngest child dictate how we will see and experience the life that follows?

Of course, these are general trends that always leave room for exceptions. Not everyone will be the child described below, as there are so many factors that further influence it. But that can be said of any trend, so it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which you match your birth order role.

The Firstborn - The Trailblazer

First in, first out? Not always it seems, as firstborns are here for the long run!

The majority of firstborn traits emerge from parenting style, given that the influence of siblings, if any, will come at a later stage of development. Being the first child, you tend to be raised by their instincts or mirror your parent’s upbringing. It can be a lot of trial-and-error. You’ll often see first-time parents diligently following parenting books, including excessive rules and attention to detail. For example, a more recent trend is to offer praise rather than reprimand, believing that children can only learn through positivity and having good behaviour reward. Coincidentally, this is also how my sister is raising her Pomsky puppy!

What is the result of this in firstborn children? A firstborn is more likely to be a perfectionist, given that attention to detail instilled upon them. Given that they spent a lot of time in their parent’s presence, they can be known to act like mini-adults. They’re also more likely to mimic parents behaviours or traits.

Firstborns will often go on to take leadership roles, as they’re known to be overachievers and have a need for control - perhaps due to the introduction of siblings they never wanted!

Strengths

  • The undivided attention of their early years gears them to be overachievers. They’re often destined for success.
  • Firstborn children have been shown to score higher on IQ tests! Maybe it was the undiluted attention and rigorous parenting guidelines. They will often get more education than their young siblings (possibly due to limited funds), and as a result, outearn their younger siblings.
  • They’re more experienced in handling responsibility and don’t quiver under pressure the way their siblings may.

Weaknesses

  • Used to being the centre of attention, can struggle when this is taken away. It may mirror how their younger siblings took attention from them, as they were too young to understand and resented this unwelcome surprise.
  • Whilst they can handle responsibility, it will bring out a bossy side of them! They also get stressed by small things.
  • Firstborns are often Type A personalities. This comes with an intense fear of failure, and nothing they achieve will be enough for them. Their fear of messing up will also force them to stick to safer paths and not take risks in life.
  • They often struggle to adapt to change, surprising given the changes they witnessed with the incoming of siblings. But perhaps that was enough change for a lifetime!

The Middle Child - The Negotiator

We’ve all heard the jokes about middle children, but to what extent are they accurate?

By the second child, couples are more likely to ease up on their rules and guidelines. This can be a good thing, but also comes with a decrease in attentiveness. Middle children have been known to fight for attention, struggling to get it wherever they can. This can lead them to become a people pleaser or follow paths that fulfil this need for attention and validation.

The middle child is also subject to “hierarchical floundering”, where they feel left out as being neither the oldest nor youngest. This can translate to their peer groups as well, where they don’t quite fit in or work excessively to leave their mark. They feel a need to belong but struggle to achieve it. However, if their eldest sibling does not fit the role assumed of a firstborn, it is likely that the middle child will usurp it and become the surrogate parent instead. Middle children are highly affected by their older sibling, more than the lastborn children are.

Perhaps due to this, or their older sibling’s influence over them, middle children show the most significant variation in traits. But the majority tend to be socially orientated, thriving on their friendships and holding large social groups. They are also textbook people-pleasers, and play the peacemaker - perhaps learned at home.

Strengths

  • Feature the highest rates of agreeableness. They have had both a dominating older sibling to compromise with, as well as a younger sibling later. They felt sandwiched between the two and frequently had to adjust. They have been both baby and elder. This leaves them likely to ‘go-with-the-flow’, also to try and win people over.
  • Stronger bonds with friends. The reduced attention at home leads them to search for it elsewhere. They make friends for life or at least strong connections whilst the friendship lasts. Often they’ll sleep at a friend’s house or travel with someone’s family before their older sibling has.

Weaknesses

  • They are the least “tethered to their family”, which can lead to weakened bonds. They don’t feel the same responsibility or debt to their parents as younger and older siblings. They may move further away or be less impacted by what their parents want for them.
  • Middle children were the beloved baby for a period of time until they got uprooted by their younger sibling, and they remember this vividly. They may fear being overlooked or neglected and will quickly feel left out of things.
  • A study showed that one-third of parents that had three children admitted to giving their middle child far less attention than the other two, so you can imagine there are lifelong consequences to this. And that’s only the ones that realised or could admit it!

The Youngest Child - The Free Spirit

Fashionably late to the party, the youngest child is not easily tempted to just follow their sibling’s footsteps.

By now, parents feel they have the whole parenting thing in the bag, so they’ll probably take a more laissez-fair attitude towards parenting. Reduced limitations and rules give the youngest children a free-spirited attitude. They are happy to take risks and learn as they go.

They’re the baby of the family, and so they likely received a lot of attention. Mainly if parents were aware that this was their final child, leading them to savour moments more. This can teach the youngest child to be attention-seeking, self-centred and manipulative. They know how to get what they want.

Spoiler alert: As the youngest of three girls, this is painfully accurate in my case!

Strengths

  • The youngest child is often the most outgoing; they can be very charismatic and talkative. Many famous actors, comedians or singers are the lastborn of their family. They shine in the spotlight. Lastborns are also more likely to be entrepreneurs due to their risk-taking and charismatic nature.
  • Lastborns have an adventurous nature, they learned through trial and error, and limited rules have them the freedom to explore the world independently. They are more likely to play sports such as football or rugby, as they don’t fear physical risks the way their siblings might.
  • They will likely benefit from experiencing their older siblings trends/generation as a whole, as well as their own. This can be through music, clothing, television and more. This allows them to be more open to experiences.

Weaknesses

  • Being the baby of the family has many benefits, the joke being that you could get away with murder. They’re aware of this and will use it to their advantage, being manipulative to get their way.
  • They were often the least disciplined, and so they’re used to getting their way and struggle if they don’t. The youngest child will not respond well to criticism later in life.
  • They’ve been coddled and are more likely to be spoilt and hold high expectations of others.
  • They are rebellious, which comes with both advantages and disadvantages. They will push limits, sometimes simply to push them and get attention.
  • But there is also a sadness to being the lastborn, as they often suffer from feeling like “nothing that I do is important”. Their older siblings achieved everything first (e.g. talking, reading, riding a bike, graduating), so parents react with less excitement at their accomplishments or may hold them to the same standards. They will never feel good enough and will strive to prove themselves.

The Only Child - The Little Adult

When it comes to an only child, all the previous assumptions are inapplicable.

Being an only child is a fascinating phenomenon, as they miss vital aspects of their social learning and must achieve these elsewhere. For example, siblings learn to compromise, responsibility and unity from one another, so the only child must either obtain this from their parents or peers.

With no siblings to compete with for your parent’s attention, you get all of their support and expectations solely on your shoulders. Your parents will be more focused on how you act and behave, but also want to please you and give you everything you need. It’s a lot of pressure that can easily be internalised and the freedom to believe you can do anything.

Many psychologists consider only children to be an exaggerated version of a firstborn, with the same perfectionistic and leadership qualities. They underwent the same period of being the only child in the house, except that this never changed, unlike firstborns. Others consider them to be a blend of the eldest and youngest sibling traits.

Strengths

  • Only children are mature for their age. They’ve spent a lot of time around adults, perhaps even more than with other children! They grew up quickly and took responsibility. They’re known for being conscientious.
  • Known to be diligent, only children get the job done well. There was no one else around to shift blame to, so you had to own up to your share of things. You haven’t had to compromise with siblings, so you were in charge of what toys or activities came into the house.
  • Leaders. Only children don’t have that same need to be liked, perhaps due to not sharing their parents’ attention. They can be ambitious and driven, not anchored by what others think of them. They also have been shown to have higher self-esteem.
  • A loyal friend. They place immense value in friendships, as they don’t have siblings to compensate for this. They consider friendships to be for the long-term and will do the work necessary for them, as they never had the built-in friends of siblings.
  • They think outside of the box, maybe due to lowered influencer from others. They’re highly independent and confident.

Weaknesses

  • Selfish. The lack of compromising present for only children can make them self-centred; they’ll struggle to negotiate and share later in life.
  • Spoilt. Unfortunately, there is a trend with only children turning out more spoilt than larger families. I don’t think it’s their fault, or even their parents, but rather circumstance. It was easier for them to get what they want, and they didn’t learn to share easily.
  • Only children may be less open to new opinions, as they didn’t have to be open the way siblings were with one another.

What else can impact this?

These are trends, but naturally, this won’t be the case for every individual or family. Numerous factors influence this and can change how siblings behave. Factors include, but are not limited to:

1. Genders. Whether you’re all the same gender or two of each, the variation can significantly impact personality traits and family habits. For example, it can make the middle child feel less like the odd one out, or have the youngest feel left out if they’re the only different gender.

2. Family size. Whether it is three, four or five children, this can greatly affect personality traits. In particular, this will impact the middle child and their identity formation.

3. Age differences. If two of the children are far closer in age than the others, that can definitely impact each side’s traits. Whether one feels more desperate for attention and to be included, or if the older sibling then feels less responsibility as it is shared with the middle one.

4. Temperament. If one of the children has a strong character that differs from their sibling role, this can affect the others as well. If the two older children are incredibly charismatic and social, the youngest could be shyer and prefer to let them do the talking. Or the other way around!

5. Parenting style. We learn a lot of things by watching our parents, so that can certainly impact how we act. A more involved parent may place less responsibility for the oldest child to help or allow them to be involved in decisions.

6. Special needs or medical conditions. Having one of the children be sick can really change how the others adapt; for example, it could cause the youngest child to take up more responsibility and be less carefree. This also happens if they lose a parent or other family member at a young age.

7. Physicality. Interestingly enough, if a younger child is taller or larger than their older sibling, this will change the power dynamic. Bigger is in charge of most households, and you can certainly see this affecting the birth order traits.

As mentioned at the start, these traits will never apply to all families and individuals, as there are so many external influences. The same could be said of any study or trend. However, it is interesting to see the impact that birth order can have on a child’s life, how their fate is dictated by something so out of their control. Family dynamics are considered to set you up for life, and a large part of this is down to your first peers: your siblings.

How much do you reflect your birth order role, or are you more similar to a different sibling role?

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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