Effect of Birth Order on a Child’s Personality


The individual personality is influenced by various life factors including development and nurture, biological factors, sociocultural factors, and environmental factors among others. Birth order is a development factor that is likely to influence a child’s personality. Mere observation can tell that children born of the same parents and growing in the same environment demonstrate different personality traits. This can be attributed to various factors, one being birth order. This paper discusses the effect of birth order on a child’s personality. The paper discusses the classification of birth order and how it influences personality, birth order theories, birth order effect on child’s behavior, anxiety and temperament, birth order influence on big five factors, and factors influencing birth order personality variation. The article establishes that there is inconsistency in the research on the effect of birth order on personality traits, but its effects on personality traits cannot be ruled out completely.

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Effect of Birth Order on Personality

Personality refers to the combination of quality and characteristics that forms a person’s distinctive character. Personality is the dynamic organization within a person among those psychophysical systems that establish his characteristics behavior. It is a less or more enduring and stable organization of an individual character, physique, intellect, and temperament that determine his distinctive adjustment to the environment. Personality is molded due to various factors including gender, family influences, environmental exposure, socio-cultural factors, early life experiences, education, and birth order among other factors. Psychologists have defined various personality theories that differentiate one individual from others. One of these theories is the development theories of personality. These theories center on the therapist’s need to comprehend individuals in the social environment context. According to Adler, one of the development theorists, behaviors and traits derive basically from developmental issues that include birth order (Gupta, 2017).   

Birth order theory is meant to explain personality variation among siblings. People are normally fascinated by the fact that children from the same parents behave differently despite being raised by the same parents, in the same environment such as neighborhood, and sharing the same genetic pool from their two parents. Besides behaviors, those siblings vary in terms of personality traits, familial sentiment, intelligence, and others. Firstborns are normally regarded as responsible, perfectionists, and high achievers, while the only child and last born are normally regarded as the baby of the house and are likely to be spoiled kids (Ha & Tam, 2011). This variation creates the need to understand the factors that influence variation in siblings’ personality traits, despite having all similar backgrounds and growing environments. The research thesis is that child’s birth order has a great influence on the child’s personality, and hence creating different personality traits among siblings.

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Birth Order Classification and Variation in Personality Traits

Birth order is perceived as the child’s position among his or her siblings. Birth order is regarded to be an aspect that impacts the child’s role among his or her siblings about care and treatment, which subsequently is mirrored in the child’s activities. According to research, variation in birth order and parents’ differences in treating and raising their children can make eth child generate varying behavioral traits. Therefore, the birth order; oldest, middle, lonely or last, will certainly pose an effect on the child’s personality, behavior, and academic performance. According to Al-Khayat and Al-Adwan (2016), the child’s role is under the influence of various factors both external and personal, which include his or her interaction with the environment and the birth order in the family.

 The order of a child in the family is essential especially when it comes to receiving care from parents. The oldest child gets the highest motivation and care. The youngest child is ranked second in receiving motivation and care from the parent, while the middle ones are among the least motivated and cared for. Al-Khayat and Al-Adwan, (2016) claim that the experience of patents changes with every newborn child, such that the second child is normally a heavy guest to the firstborn, as he or she will replace him or her in the family, and parents will involuntarily treat him with extra attention and care. This is likely to make the firstborn angry, egocentric, and jealous towards everyone around him. This will make him obstinacy, regression, challenge, and eventually, he will end up trusting others while losing self-trust. The secondborn will feel the firstborn strength and will try to prove himself since he has a better surrounding compared to the firstborn as the gap between the firstborn and parents is considerably larger, the firstborn gets little chances for proving himself. The second-born on the contrary experiences a smaller gap between him and the firstborn since the parents are likely to always support him over his older sibling. This makes the second-born develop a stronger character than the firstborn. Things may change with the arrival of the last child who eventually gets the most attention due to young age compared to others, and the fact that the last child is treated as a child much longer. As the last in the birth order, the lastborn seems to be unstable due to jealousy and additional care, as he usually anticipates having his needs addressed in the manner he wants. In case the needs are not addressed as desired, this makes the lastborn feel frustrated, threatened, and unstable. The fear that his attention may be diverted to a newborn may make him more unstable and anxious (Al-Khayat & Al-Adwan, 2016).  

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The research demonstrates some level of variation on the specific personality of children based on their birth order. This is mostly based on how the parents managed to balance their parenting role about giving care and attention to their children. According to Gupta (2017), the firstborns are found to be well-organized, perfectionist, list-makers, reliable, conscientious, conservative, scholarly achievers, people-pleaser, self-sacrificing, support order and law, self-reliant, a believer in ritual and authority, and legalistic. The middle born are generally mediators, avoidant to conflicts, extremely loyal to peer and independent, and most frequently act like the lost child in the family. They are mostly quiet and shy or outgoing and friendly, easily frustrated and impatient, or relaxed, coping with life challenges. A middle-born might be very easygoing or very competitive, the family peacemaker or the family black sheep.  The youngest in the family is characteristically the personable manipulator, the outgoing charmers. They are also uncomplicated, affectionate, and in some cases a little absent-minded. They seem to be more carefree (Gupta, 2017).

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Theories supporting Child’s birth order influence on Personality

Alfred Adler birth order theory

Alfred Adler was the pioneer of birth order research. He theorized that every birth position contains a set of personality traits. Firstborns are normally perceived as conforming, leaders, ambitious, and high-achievers. They try to please their parents through traditional ways that are through responsible behaviors and academic performance. According to Alfred Adler’s theory, middle children might experience difficulty getting a position of significance and privilege in the family, since they never have the chance to monopolize their parent’s attention. Therefore, they normally fight to remain ahead of their younger siblings. On the other hand, only children and lastborns are normally perceived as spoiled family’s kids. This is because the two birth positions are the only family focus. Nevertheless, unlike the only child, the later-born including the last-born and middle child are aware of the firstborn higher status, so they will seek different strategies to be noticeable from their siblings (Chandola & Tiwari, 2016).

Dethronement theory

Dethronement theory was postulated to explain the effects of birth order on personality development. Before the younger sibling’s birth, the eldest child had the complete attention of her or his parents. However, she or he was dethroned later by a newborn. As a dethronement consequence, the child would struggle to reclaim parental attention. This makes the firstborn develop traits such as competence, conscientiousness, independence, and conservative. That would facilitate one’s academic achievements later (Ha & Tam, 2011).

Family-niches Model

Family-niches is another theory that describes the effects of birth order on personality development. Research conducted by Sulloway (1996), as reported by Jefferson, Herbst, and McCrae (1998), demonstrated that children are encouraged to solicit parental investment when they are notice disparity in parental investment in the family. The contest for parental investment by generating distinctive niches. The theory also postulated that firstborns are less agreeable than children born later since firstborns overlook the younger siblings to reduce the parental investment diversion. On contrary, the younger siblings evade confrontation with the firstborns to petition parental investment. Thus turn them to extra agreeable. The theory also proposes that the firstborns negatively correlate with openness as contrasted to children born later. This is because openness is the aspect that helps children born later to develop unique approaches to contest for parental investment. Moreover, firstborns were found to be more conscientious compared to children born later, since firstborns mirror their parents’ personality traits, beliefs, and attitudes, while later-bone might generate personality traits, beliefs, and attitudes that are away from that of parents and eldest siblings. They are said to be playful, rebellious, and cooperative. Thus, children born later are described as born to rebel (Jefferson, Herbst and McCrae, 1998).

Birth Order and Child’s Temperament and Behaviors Variation at a Young Age

The place of a person in the family, the first encountered social structure, has been proposed as a contributing factor in molding human response to physiological stress and personalities. Thus, the child’s aptitude to cope with stressors in different life situations might be determined partly by the child’s ranking of the family and family interactions. The birth order literature review proposes that there are birth-order variations in the personality dimensions. Despite some inconsistencies, most of the previous evidence correlating child outcomes and birth order reports that youngest and middle children do worse in terms of anxiety and behavior compared to first-borns. Only children are found to be at high risk of developing anxiety and negative behaviors compared to children with siblings. To verify the information, Aminabadi et al. (2017) researched to determine the relationships between a child’s behavior, anxiety, and temperament in a tense situation; a dental clinic setting. The research demonstrated that only children demonstrated high situational and clinical anxiety, and more negative behavior compared to children with siblings. Among children with siblings, the firstborn child demonstrated a high risk of developing situational anxiety, clinical anxiety, and negative behavior. With an exception of sadness, no considerable differences were observed in temperament scale among children with varying birth order. The result demonstrated the later-born and only children are at an increased risk of developing worse results in the dental setting.

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The Big Five Personality Traits Based On Birth Order

As mentioned previously, personality is the combination of quality or characteristics that forms a person’s distinctive character. According to research, five fundamental traits are particularly relevant and are normally regarded as big five personality traits. The big five traits include extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness. According to Botzet, Rohrer and Arslan (2021), there is empirical support for the birth order effects on the Big Five traits that were used to support the family niche model based on (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic countries) WEIRD samples.

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However, the utilization of larger samples with the same population or different populations demonstrates inconsistency with the initial results used by Sulloway to develop her family niche model. One research with 377000 sample from US high school students established that first-borns seems to be more conscientious, higher in extraversion dominance aspect and less agreeable. However, the study correlation was very minimal which made the authors conclude that the birth order effects on Big Five personality traits were negligible (Botzet, Rohrer & Arslan, 2021).

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 Similarly, research by Rohrer, Egloff and Schmukle (2015) using combined data from Great Britain, the USA, and Germany, established that birth order did not contain a considerable effect on agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, or neuroticism. However, Rohrer et al. reported a negative impact of birth order on intellect that is consistent with findings of educational attainment and evidence. Generally, evidence of the effects of birth order on the Big Five in WEIRD nations proposes that they are at best weak. Similar research conducted by Botzet, Rohrer and Arslan (2021) established consistency between their research result with the null effect of risk aversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness found in the WEIRD population. This was after observing some measures that include excluding only children in the sample and including a sibship size of three and above. Also, the research sample targeted on educated, in Singapore, with an effort to maintain sample consistency with the initial WEIRD sample, but in a different environment. Yet no birth order effect was found on either openness or intelligence, in contrast to the minute negative estimates identified in WEIRD populations. Botzet, Rohrer and Arslan (2021) found the results to be highly cultural based, as parents vary on how they bring up their children. This explains why most future results are highly inconsistent with Sulloway’s and other previous research claiming that the theories did not create an allowance for important cultural variations in family dynamics.

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Factors Influencing Variation in Personality Traits among Individuals and Birth Order Relation to Personality Traits Variation

Humans have distinctive character traits. Every person has varying ways of behaving, thinking, and emotionally. Personality is how one anticipates someone else to behave in the long term. Personality traits refer to behavioral elements that represent your personality that include impatience, generosity, or outgoing. There are various explanations given regarding variation in people’s personalities. Some of these factors include genetic traits among other biological factors, environmental factors, social and cultural factors, and development factors. In the developmental factors, Keat and Mazlin (2019) claim that children in a family are normally treated differently and in most cases, it happens spontaneously without individuals around them being aware of the responses given. This somehow give an effect on the children’s behavior and attitude. Some agree that a person’s personality is slightly impacted by the birth order. Besides behaviors, siblings do vary in terms of personality traits.

A child’s interaction with parents is a fundamental impact on development personality since it is the start of the development of relationship skills. Fair parental treatment toward all of the children is essential in molding the personality of a child. Research has established variations in parental conduct among children based on birth order which seems to affect their personality. According to Keat and Mazlin (2019), mothers tend to be extra affectionate to their firstborns than later-born and interact more with them than. It is demonstrated that children who are born later contain lower self-esteem compared to only children and children born first. Firstborns are rated higher on helping by mothers compared to second-born. Siblings and parents will normally put an expectation on children, thus, every family member has his or her role in the family governed responsibilities. Childhood is the family niche quest that eventually turns to the child’s identity.

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Birth order is one aspect that is said to influence a child’s personality traits in a family. Siblings born of the same father and mother are said to demonstrate different personality traits based on their birth order. This is highly attributed to their relationship with their parents after birth and the birth of their siblings. Although there is inconsistency in the research results based on how birth order impacts personality traits, it is clear that birth order influences individual personality traits, especially where children have to compete for parents’ attention. The research has considered various factors impacting this.

However, the research fails to consider the birth gap between siblings which is likely to influence parents’ ability to juggle between caring for siblings. Also, there is little done to determine the cultural contribution to all this. In some cultures, firstborns are perceived as deputy parents and hence they are trained to stand in where need be. This means first-born are deliberately treated differently from other children to make them more responsible. More research is needed in this area to be able to eliminate doubts brought about by the existing inconsistency on different researches aimed at explaining how birth order impacts personality traits.

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