Research Shows Birth Order Really Does Matter

Every parent has wondered why the outcomes of their kids can be perplexingly different.  Did we have different rules? Life changes? Was it just biological? New research indicates that birth order plays a role in the outcomes of siblings. In fact it influences everything from lower earnings, IQ, educational attainment, and even health outcomes.

In a new study, “Born to Lead? The Effect of Birth Order on Non-Cognitive Abilities” Sandra Black, Erik Gronqvist and Bjorn Ockert find that first-born children have a lot of advantages when it comes to personality characteristics and career achievements down the line. Specifically personality scores decline with birth order such that earlier-born men are more outgoing, emotionally stable, persistent, willing to assume responsibility, and able to take initiative than are later-born men. In addition birth order also tends to impact one’s occupation so that first borns are likely to be managers and in occupations that require leadership ability, social ability, and other personality traits like agreeableness and openness. Interestingly, later born siblings are more likely to be self-employed which tends to be associated with risk taking.

As the authors state, “There are many potential explanations for these patterns, ranging from biological differences by birth order to differences in sibling behavior to parents treating younger siblings differently. While it is hard to distinguish these, we think we’ve found some answers. When we look at explanations, we find that first-born teenagers are more likely to read books; spend more time on homework; and spend less time watching TV or playing video games. Parents also spend less time discussing school work with later-born children, suggesting there may be differences in parent’s time investments.”

Overall, the study shows that younger siblings tend to have personality characteristics that lead to different career choices than their older siblings that can be attributed to environment.

What do you think? Does this research align with your family experience?

Born to Lead? The Effect of Birth Order on Non-Cognitive Abilities
Sandra E. Black & Erik Grönqvist & Björn Öckert
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2017

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