Why Birth Order Matters for Your Child's Future

Why Birth Order Matters for Your Child's Future

As a general rule, parents don’t admit to loving one child more than another (good parents, at least).

But even if you think you treat each of your children equally, studies show that that’s not the case. And it's not bad parenting, but birth order that's to blame. That's because when they're born leads to children developing differently.

In fact, birth order has been linked to specific personality traits, career choices, earning power ... and even a child’s predilection to try dangerous sports.

Find out what birth order can determine for your child, and how to make sure you’re giving each of your children an equal shot at personal and financial success—whether she’s your first child, or your fifteenth.

A Groundbreaking New Study

Recently, Brigham Young University released a study that showed that between the formative ages of 3 and 14, eldest children get 3,000 more hours of quality time with parents than their siblings do when they pass through the same age range. This new study may have finally revealed one of the reasons why birth order leads to different personality traits, skills and interests in siblings.

Below, we've included—based on birth order study findings—the ways oldest, middle, youngest and only children tend to differ, as well as parenting tips to ensure that each type of child is most likely to succeed.

Profile of a First-Born Child

On the whole, first-borns tend to be academic and driven. On average, eldest children have been shown to have IQs three points higher than their next siblings, and they often pursue prestigious careers: For example, 43% of CEOs are first-born children, over half of U.S. presidents have been first-born children, and a disproportionate number of surgeons, M.B.A.s, and members of Congress are first-borns as well. Possibly because of their tendency to go into such highly regarded fields, a CareerBuilder study showed that eldest children are the most likely to earn more than $100,000.

How to Parent Your Eldest Child: While it's great that your first-born is so responsible, many eldest children develop perfectionist personalities, which have been shown to cause stress-related emotional and physical problems. And that's often because we expect more of them than we do of their younger siblings. Asking your first-born to help out occasionally is fine, but don't expect them to act as a third parent to younger children, or set a good example all of the time. Remember, they're just kids themselves!

Profile of a Middle Child

Middle children tend to be the most laid-back and sociable. They form stronger and more numerous friendships starting at a younger age than their siblings, and are more adept at getting people to agree on things than their other siblings.

Does Birth Order Affect Your Family?

Do you notice a difference in attitude or personality among your different children? Have you ever thought it might be attributed to their birth order?

To find their own way in the world, middle child tend to "de-identify" from older siblings: If the eldest is studious, the middle child might become athletic or artistic instead. (Third children often de-de-identify, choosing to become unlike the second child and, ultimately, more like the first child.) Perhaps as a result of the de-identification process, the same CareerBuilder study that showed that eldest children tend to be high earners found that middle children were the most likely to earn less than $35,000 per year. 

How to Parent Your Middle Child: Make a conscious effort to spend quality alone time with your middle child—which is admittedly harder than when you just had one. Try reading alone before bed, taking him on solo trips to the movies, or, if you’re pressed for time, bringing him (and him alone) with you when you run errands. If your first-born is a high-achiever, make sure to celebrate the achievements of your middle child and make him feel special, too. This will push him to succeed in his favored activities, rather than try to compete with his older sib.

Lastly, while hand-me-downs are a great way for parents to save money as kids quickly outgrow their clothing, they can also hinder your middle child's sense of individuality. Check out these other ways to save cash on kids' clothes.

Profile of a Youngest Child

By virtue of being the last child at home with parents after older siblings have moved out, youngest children also get a lot of quality time with their parents. But while all the kids are still at home, youngest children often use "low-power" strategies for getting what they want, such as being agreeable or humorous. In fact, youngest children are the most likely to pursue artistic or comedic careers--probably because they were accustomed to getting attention by being outspoken, funny and over-the-top. Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift and Stephen Colbert were all the youngest of big families. (Colbert is the youngest of 11 children!)

How to Parent Your Youngest Child: Though they're often agreeable, because they want (and get) a lot of their parents’ attention, the babies of the family can act like, well, babies. Don’t let your youngest child get away with wild antics or “look-at-me” behavior just because she’s your baby. Making your youngest child aware that there are consequences to her behavior will ensure that she becomes responsible, rather than spoiled (here are some other ways to tell if your kid is spoiled).

Profile of an Only Child

Only children are very similar to eldest children, and are often attracted to intellectual or academic pursuits. In fact, psychologist Kevin Leman called only children “firstborns in triplicate" who can be even bigger perfectionists than eldest children. While perfectionism may lead to a high level of stress, only children are also ambitious and articulate (which will pay off in the long run!). These characteristics most likely develop as a result of spending so much time with adults from a young age.

How to Parent Your Only Child: Make sure your only child spends plenty of time with other kids his age (and not only when he's in school). Setting up frequent play-dates or enrolling him in after-school activities will ensure that he builds the type of social skills that will allow him to get along with peers as he gets older. (Find out how much different after-school activities cost: read this.)

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