Turns Out Birth Order Might Not Mean Much

In a curious turn of events, according to a new study by a University of Illinois study birth order actually has no significant effect on personality or intelligence between siblings. The study analyzed 377,000 high school students and its head researcher is calling it the biggest look at the relationship between personality and birth order in history.

Strobist: SB-800 camera right with Honl 5 inch snoot aimed at girl. SB-800 with 8 inch shoot aimed at boy. Both at 1/2 power.

Strobist: SB-800 camera right with Honl 5 inch snoot aimed at girl. SB-800 with 8 inch shoot aimed at boy. Both at 1/2 power.

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality and has established that while first-borns statistically have a one-point IQ advantage over their younger siblings the difference is “statistically significant but meaningless.”

The lead researcher, Brent Roberts, stated, “In some cases, if a drug saves 10 out of 10,000 lives, for example, small effects can be profound. But in terms of personality traits and how you rate them, a .02 correlation doesn’t get you anything of note. You are not going to be able to see it with the naked eye. You’re not going to be able to sit two people down next to each other and see the differences between them.”

Birth order has been a fixture of fascination and often is linked closely with fate; firstborns are meant to be controlling and ambitious, middle children are meant to be wayward and rebellious and oft overlooked, and the youngest are coddled, bratty, and babied. The firstborn traditionally has the most weight on his shoulders and inherits the most of the family’s fortune or tribulations. For decades, scientists have been studying the effects of birth order on family dynamics and individual personalities from early 20th Century Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler to pop phycology parenting books on how to raise each child based on their place in the family.

The study controlled for a few factors, most notably family size, socio-economic status, and gender and arrived at a .02 correlation between birth order and personality and a .04 correlation between birth order and intelligence.

This shockingly low number goes against almost all previous studies and hypotheses regarding personality and intelligence relative to birth order.

It’s tempting to credit and blame a child’s personality traits, characteristics, and fate on birth order. The reality however is so much more complex; each child’s character and fate are based on biology and environment and encompass hundreds of thousands choices in and out of his control. The study’s co-author, Rodica Damian, sums it up nicely, “Birth order probably should not influence your parenting because it’s not meaningfully related to your kid’s personality or IQ.”





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