full version Birth Order And Personality Essay

Birth Order And Personality

Category: Psychology

Autor: yan000 04 March 2010

Words: 2776 | Pages: 12

Birth Order’s Effect on Personality

Birth Order’s Effect on Personality
Environment determines to some extent the personality of a person. There are numerous factors in the environment which could determine variations in the personalities of different individuals. There are factors which are inherent to the environment and there are those determined by the manner by which individuals enter into a particular environment. In much the same way, how an infant’s entrance into the world determines in large part how parents and others will respond. In this paper particular view will be taken on the matter of timing that an infant is born.
When an infant is born determines in large part the emotions of his or her parents and relatives. Moreover, whether or not the infant is the first child, has older siblings, or is the youngest child to be born to the family impacts the environment he or she is to grow up in. These three different scenarios are descriptive of birth order. A person’s rank by age among his or her siblings is called birth order (Sulloway, 2001). Birth order thus determines the environment into which a child is born and the responsive and adaptive responses of the child. This cycle of interaction extends all the way up to adulthood (Stewart, Stewart, & Campbell, 2001). Thus, one can reasonably infer that birth order determines the relatively constant pattern of personality observed in individuals. Birth order therefore significantly affects the personality of the individual.
This paper will take a closer look at this phenomenon through an introduction to the field of study regarding the link between birth order and personality. To set the stage, theories of birth order will first be briefly reviewed. The progress of studies from this initial theoretical stage has caused the study of two types of birth order: biological and psychological. These two will be differentiated herein. Finally, the distinguishing characteristics of individuals with varying birth orders will be discussed. The personality traits associated with first-borns, later born children, and only children will be outlined herein. By the end of this paper, it will have been made clear that indeed birth order has a role in molding the personality of individuals.
Theories on Birth Order
Several theories on birth order have been established dating back to the time of Freud and Jung. Freud himself a first-born child was known to exhibit characteristics typically associated with first-borns. Two significant theorists who have helped to build up the credibility of the study of birth order will be introduced here. The first provided the basis for the discussion regarding birth order and the second revived the said discussion after critics had caused the temporary disbelief to prior studies.
Alfred Adler
Among the first psychologists to consider the effect of birth order on personality was Alfred Adler. Adler espoused that birth order was determinative of the amount of attention that children garnered from their parents (Adler, 1964). The first perspective on birth order thus stemmed from a belief that individuals competed for attention and for areas of strength as a response to parental expectations.
In Adler’s theory, the first-born gains the exclusive attention of his or her parents – for a season at least. This prompts the first-born to explore confidently his or her areas of interest knowing that any accomplishments he or she attains will give satisfaction to his or her parents (Adler, 1964). However, upon the birth of the second child, the parents’ attention shifts to the younger child. This causes the first-born to moderate actions and levels of confidence (Adler, 1964). Moreover, on the part of the second child, there is a need to gain competence in areas so that he or she might receive attention in the same manner that the older sibling does (Eckstein, 2000). This competition for competence determines the enduring personality traits of the children.
Adler himself was a second child and that this fact greatly influenced the formulation of his theory on birth order (Eckstein, 2000). The distinguishing characteristic of Adler’s theory is the marked power struggle between siblings. Personality thus becomes a concept strongly influenced by a basic urge for attention and respect. At a young age, these same goals are gained from parents the struggle extends to adulthood as common relations and peers.
Frank Sulloway
For a period, birth order was refuted and phased out from serious study. However, as a result of Sulloway’s release of his own studies, birth order theories gained respect once again (Paulhus, Trapnell, & Chen, 1999). Frank Sulloway follows Adler’s theory in the sense that he also believed sibling differences attributed to birth order resulted from competition between siblings. Sulloway (1996) held that siblings utilize differences in size and strength to overpower younger siblings. These younger siblings in turn resorted to counterstrategies in order to hold their ground against older siblings. Such a discussion is certainly reminiscent to Adler’s own speculations.
However, Sulloway’s studies brought in a new dimension to the study of birth order. It was through his research that the Big Five Personality traits, namely Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, were introduced into the study (Sulloway, 2001). Data was gathered reflecting the personality dispositions of individuals based on birth order. This served to give credibility to this particular area of study as the reliability of the Big Five measure lent credence to the questionability of birth order research.

Biological and Psychological Birth Order
Before a discussion on the particular characteristics of individuals belonging to particular birth orders can be had, there is a need to define the two types of birth orders. These types are more means of classifying perspectives through which birth order’s effects on personality may be seen. The first type has to do with actual ranking of siblings based on age. Biological birth order takes the narrow and literal perspective as regards the ranking of siblings belonging to a family (Sulloway, 2001). Thus, it is the singular factor of sequential arrangement of sibling birth that is focused on as the determinant of personality development.
In this regard biological birth takes little to no concern with the other factors that may be present in the family environment. Because biological birth order has such a limited view on the factors determining the development of personality, it does little to account for extraneous factors which every individual has to deal with. As a result, little argumentation may be made on the basis of other social contexts in which the child finds him or herself in. The studies focusing on biological birth have used methodologies frequently questioned as to causality of the two factors studied, namely birth order and personality.
Alternatively, the study of psychological birth order takes into consideration the perceived role that an individual occupies in the family sphere (Stewart et al., 2001). This therefore offers a broader view on the factors attendant during the child’s developmental years. Particularly, this view gives importance to interactions within the family context which may serve to facilitate personality development.
The role theory as proposed by Adler serves to explain better the definition of psychological birth order (Adler, 1927). The role theory establishes that in a particular family there are expectations set for each member and there are tasks which each member is given to perform. This develops the personality of the members of the family to occupy the expected positions that have been delegated them. Therefore, the manner in which other family members relate with a particular child determines the role which he or she plays out. The child consequentially adjusts his or her personality traits in order to fill out the requisite capacities of the role designated to him or her.
Psychological birth order is not stable through time. Moreover, psychological birth order may shift through the addition of new members or younger siblings to the family (Stewart et al., 2001). Thus, it may be observed that as time passes, one child may take the role of another child (Stewart et al., 2001). This may even be observed as regards the role of the eldest child. When the eldest child leaves the home, for example, the second child assumes the role of oldest sibling and is thus expected to act in a more responsible manner.
Therefore, biological birth order is the strict adherence to the interaction among siblings by virtue of the sequence of their birth. On the other hand, psychological birth order takes on the added perspective of persons other than the siblings who hold expectations as to the roles that are to be acted out by each one. Having made clear the difference between the two, there will now be a more stable base on which to assess the characteristics commonly associated with individuals belonging to particular birth orders.
Personality Traits of the First-Born
The first born child is the one who gets exclusive attention up to the time that his or her siblings join the family. Up to the point that the coming of the second child has been ascertained, the first-born is a functional only child. It is the fact that he or she is prepared for the arrival of another child in the home which distinguishes the first-born from the only child. As is the case in most families when preparing for a baby, the first child is briefed regarding the changes that will have to take place once the baby has arrived. Often, the first child is made to understand that he or she must serve as a role model for his or her sibling.
From the moment then that the second child is announced, the role expected from the first-born shifts and changes. As a result, first-borns have been found to be more responsible than their siblings. The oldest thus occupies the role of leader or authority among his or her siblings (Stewart, et al., 2001). This develops leadership traits and conscientiousness in the oldest child. As a result, the oldest has also been found to be the highest achiever in the family (Eckstein, 2001). This may be a product of the discipline that has been ingrained into the oldest sibling in conducting his or her affairs; particularly so since at most times the care of the younger siblings is left to him or her.
Moreover, the oldest child is known to have the highest intelligence quotient among siblings. This may be due attributed to the company he or she was exposed to while still functionally an only child (Eckstein, 2001). Because the oldest child has grown up alone in the company of his or her parents and their acquaintances, he or she is more capable of relating with these more mature individuals. This is not the case with the younger siblings who would have the benefit of being around the company of their siblings and thus not dependent on the company of older people.
Furthermore, the oldest child is unlike the only child with regard to intelligence because the oldest child has the opportunity to impart his or her knowledge to his or her younger siblings (Eckstein, 2001). This produces a practice effect to information and skills learned, otherwise also known as a tutor effect. Because a demonstration is required of the first-born, there is deeper cognitive processing of the information he learns and thus deeper learning results.
It is also observed that it is the oldest child who excels in academic accomplishments (Eckstein, 2001). There are two arguments for this finding. The first finds basis in the higher intellectual capacity observed in first-borns. As a product of this greater intelligence, accomplishments in the academe are certain to follow. The second basis deals with the earlier mentioned Adlerian theory concerning biological birth order. Adler believed that the first-born required the exhibition of excellence in areas wherein he or she was confident because of the threat to attention posed by his or her younger sibling (Adler, 1964). Therefore, academic excellence serves to retain parental attention and pride.
Stewart et al. (2001) confirmed the presence of anxiety in the oldest child regarding the fact that he might be taken over by his younger sibling. The anxiety finds root in the fact that up to the arrival of the second child, the oldest child holds a privileged position. The presence of the second child might therefore serve to deprive him of such privilege. This pushes the oldest child to attain achievements. The fear and anxiety serve as strong motivators while the achievements provide a safety net for the continued attention and favor of parents.
The oldest child is also observed to value more the adherence to rules and norms (Stewart et al., 2001). Because the oldest child is expected to implement household rules and norms in order that the younger children might also observe these house rules, the respect for rules imposed by authorities outside of the home would serve to reinforce the roles played at home. Thus, even though the rules and norms are no longer part of the family disciplining process, the oldest child still performs these rules and advocates the following of these rules to others. This is an effect of the deeply ingrained rule-enforcing nature that is expected of him in the family. Such a situation reflects the extent of the application of the personality fruits of psychological birth order.
Personality Traits of Later Born Children
It is believed that later born children must struggle under the shadow of the accomplishments of the older child. These individuals therefore find ways of distinguishing themselves from their older siblings (Paulhus et al., 1999). This is in line with theories on competitions between siblings causing younger siblings to seek for ways to obtain the attention of their parents. It has been found that later-borns develop personalities that are high in empathy and distinctly interpersonal (Paulhus et al., 1999). Unlike the assertive first-born, the later-born resorts to conciliation and is more relational than goal-oriented. Later-borns are also marked by a characteristic striving for uniqueness (Paulhus et al., 1999). The need to have others notice their worth and their distinct characteristic fuels them to form meaningful relationships and to accomplish feats in their own particular field of interest.
Later-borns are further divided into two distinct classes in the Adlerian categorization. This categorization recognizes the particular characteristics of the middle child and the youngest child. These two categories will be discussed herein. It will be seen that the youngest child has little in common with the middle child and may not necessarily be accurately described by the description of later-borns. However, such a discussion will not be had here because of the extraneous factors, such as family size and structure, which need to be considered in order to more accurately understand the applicable portrait of the youngest child.
The Youngest Child
Although the oldest child experienced the stage of functionally being an only child, the privilege that he or she experienced may not be comparable to that afforded the youngest child. When the youngest child joins the family, the older siblings will have had their share of experiences and accomplishments already. As a result, the youngest child is often perceived as the least capable or the least skilled among all the siblings (Stewart et al., 2001). As a result, the youngest child is often coddled and not made to expend too much effort in the performance of chores and tasks. There are minimal expectations placed on the youngest child and therefore small tasks are expected of him or her. At times, because of the simplicity of such tasks and the perceived reliability of the older children, even such simple tasks are not given to the youngest child to perform. It is not uncommon that even tasks which at a given age their older siblings had already begun to perform will not be allowed the youngest child. The perception of the level of skill of the youngest is observed to be based not simply on actual age but more on the comparative capability between the youngest and his older siblings.

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