Does Your Birth Order Affect Your Personality?

May 16, 2017, 04:30 PM

A story from Man Repeller.


You’re such an only child, might be a simple observation, or a blatant insult. Swap in middle child or baby of the family or firstborn and everyone’s offended. Birth order theory has the capacity to insult and captivate in equal measure. Psychologists have been talking about it for over a century; supporting studies have been all over the map.

The theory of birth order was first proposed in the early 1900s by psychotherapist Alfred Adler, a disciple of Freud. Adler believed his theory answered the question of why siblings (who might share both nature and nurture, to some extent) are so different. While the relevance and application of its principles inspires a bit of debate, the core tenet of birth-order theory — that family position influences one’s personality — is hard to contest. So, what exactly does birth order theory say about you?

The firstborn, sometimes called The Achiever, is reliable, conscientious and controlling. “If you are a firstborn, you are probably a high achiever who seeks approval, dominates and is that perfectionist who uses up all of the oxygen in the room,” says Dr. Gail Gross, a human behavior and parenting expert. “The eldest child will probably have more in common with other firstborns than their own brothers and sisters.”

Dr. Kevin Leman, who’s been studying birth order since 1967 and wrote The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are, says, “The one thing you can bet your paycheck on is the firstborn and second-born in any given family are going to be different.”

Middle children, sometimes called The Peacemakers, are social people-pleasers with rebellious streaks. “If you are a middle child,” says Dr. Gross, “you are probably understanding, cooperative and flexible, yet competitive. You are concerned with fairness.” You’re also more likely to have an intimate circle of friends that act like family.

“These kids are the most difficult to pin down,” says Dr. Leman. “They are guaranteed to be opposite of their older sibling, but that difference can manifest in a variety of ways.” He says if firstborns are CEOs, middle children are entrepreneurs.

The baby of the family, which Dr. Gross calls “the life of the party,” is fun-loving, uncomplicated and manipulative. “As the youngest child, you have more freedom than the other siblings and, in a sense, are more independent,” says Dr. Gross. “Your range of influence extends throughout your family, which supports you both emotionally and physically.” She says youngest children, for that reason, experience a sense of security that their siblings might not.

As the baby of my family, I will hold my offense until the end.

Only children are said to be mature and diligent perfectionists, not so different from firstborns, but have no one to compete with for attention. “If you’re an only child, you grow up surrounded by adults, and therefore are more verbal,” says Dr. Gross. “This allows for gains in intelligence that exceed other birth order differences. Having spent so much time alone, you are resourceful, creative and confident in your independence.”

These are extreme characterizations and they beg the question: How could birth order possibly have this much impact? Or rather, why do so many experts believe it does? “Some of it has to do with the way the parent relates to the child in his spot, and some of it actually happens because of the spot itself. Each spot has unique challenges,” says Meri Wallace, child and family therapist and author of Birth Order Blues.

New parents’ cautiousness and attentiveness with firstborns, for example, may make the child more concerned with being perfect. Second and middle children, by contrast, may not receive the same level of obsession, making them more likely to vie for attention through people-pleasing. Last-borns benefit from the least amount of discipline and plenty of coddling, and may turn out more free-spirited. (I’m paraphrasing; you can see...