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Does Birth Order Affect Your Child’s Personality and Your Parenting?

Have you ever wondered why your first child is a bossy perfectionist and your second child is more relaxed and less pedantic?  As parents we are often puzzled how two children from the same set of parents can be so different.  Could it possibly have something to do with birth order?

Birth Order theories have been around since the 1920’s.  Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, was the first to emphasise the importance of birth order and how it affects our lives.

Today’s psychologists tend to believe that birth order is simply one variable that affects, but does not determine what you are like.  It is very clear however, that there is a lot more to your child’s personality than what they’ve inherited from their gene pool.

Do you believe your child’s birth order has any bearing on his or her personality and should this affect the way you parent?

Research on Birth Order

Tiffany L Frank, a doctoral candidate at Adelphi University in Long Island, NY, led a recent study on 90 pairs of high school age siblings. It was found that first borns are typically smarter, while younger siblings get better grades and are more outgoing.  Frank’s study also suggested that inherent differences between siblings might arise no matter what parents do.

This finding supports the work of Dr Kevin Leman, a psychologist who has studied birth order since 1967 and is also the author of The Birth Order Book:  Why You Are the Way You Are. Leman says “The one thing you can bet your paycheck on is the first born and second born in any given family are going to be different”.  Dr Leman believes the secret to sibling personality differences lies in birth order and how parents treat their child because of it.

Child and family therapist, Meri Wallace and author of Birth Order Blues agrees with Leman. “Some of it has to do with the way the parent relates to the child in his position, and some of it happens because of the position itself.  Each position has unique challenges."

For example, a firstborn will naturally be somewhat of an ‘experiment’ for parents and the early years will be a mixture of instinct and trial and error.  This may cause parents to be ‘by the book’ caregivers who are extremely attentive and stringent with rules and somewhat neurotic about small issues.  This approach may cause a first born to be more of a perfectionist and always strive to please his parents.

A second child, in contrast, might be parented in a more relaxed manner due to the parents’ experiences with the first born; they can often be less attentive and less concerned about smaller things.  This may be why the second born child is often less of a perfectionist but more of a people pleaser; she may get less attention compared to her older sibling.

Meri’s belief is that how parents treat their first born and second born is the real influence on their attitudes and behaviour, rather than merely the order in which they were born.

Michael Grose, parenting expert and author of Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It believes that most of us have a dominant birth order personality that matches our birth position.  He also believes that personality is influenced by variables such as temperament, gender and other family circumstances.  
Michael summarises birth order ‘types’ and their characteristics below.  Just for fun, we’ve included some famous people within each birth order ‘type’.

First Borns – leaders, drivers and responsible types. They like to manage others and feel in control.  They don’t often like surprises or feeling out of their depth.  Often conservative in their outlook, they may be low risk takers. They have a tendency towards perfectionism.  Approval of authority is important.

Famous First Born Children:  Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Hilary Clinton & Bill Clinton and macho actors such as Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Sean Connery. Two more famous first borns are Oprah and J.K. Rowling

Second Borns – people pleasers, compromisers and flexible types.  They are most likely to be motivated by a cause and will enjoy working alongside people. Friendships and belonging are extremely important to this group.  They like to keep the peace and are the glue that holds groups together. Note: ‘Second borns’ refers to all children born between the first born and the youngest.

Famous Second Born Children:  Bob Hope, Bill Gates, JFK, Madonna, Cindy Lauper, Princess Diana, Cindy Crawford and Brittney Spears.

Onlys – quiet achievers, finishers; they expect nothing less than the best in anything.  Only children may raise the bar for everyone around them as only the best will do. Their great strength is their ability to work alone for a long period of time.  They are strategic thinkers and great finishers.  They can also be secretive and don’t deal with conflict well.  Recognition is important to this group.

Famous Only Children:  Hans Christian Anderson, Lance Armstrong, Lauren Bacall, Burt Bacharach, David Copperfield, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Sammy Davis Jnr.

Youngests – initiators, ideas people and challengers.  Youngest children are likely to be creative, live for the moment people who put fun into activities.  They are impatient and whilst they are great starters, they often don’t finish things. Being noticed is important to youngest children.

Famous Youngest Children:  Ronald Regan, Cameron Diaz, Jim Carrey, Drew Carey, Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal & Eddie Murphy.

What do you think? Is there something to birth order and personality type?  Do you fit into your birth order group?  

Can we and should we alter our parenting style to bring out the best in our child based on their birth order, or does knowing their birth order personality simply help us to understand them better?   

Comments (7)


Great article Annie!

And spot on. You described the order and traits of my three children. So, so interesting. Thanks xx

Great article

oh God, I SO buy in to the birth order theory. My oldest has an intellectual disability and my middle child is kind of 1st and 2nd rolled in to one. Kinda. My youngest is youngest pure and simple. They could not be more chalk and cheese. Same can be said for me and my brother.

I do think the more we have, the more we chill out and the more independence this allows them.

great article! I loved it!

Very interesting article! My

Very interesting article! My son is a classic first born, however so is my husband - and he's the youngest in his family! And I am a classic second born - but I am the youngest!
My kids all showed their different personalities almost from the word go, and I am convinced that we are born with our personalities and (other than extreme abuse) very little can be done to alter them.
But perhaps that's just something first borns would think????

birth order parenting

I appreciated this article, while disagreeing (on a personal level) with some of the categories. I don't fit where I "should"! And neither do my siblings, at least not completely.

However, I've noticed how I parent my four children quite differently based (in part) on their birth order and the personality style they exhibit. With my eldest, I relied on her too much often, and scratched my head trying to figure her out, since I'm a second child. With my second, we butted heads alot as she and I are a great deal alike, and she struggles still with being a person separate from mom. Then ten years later I had two sons, and the first one is quite a first child mentality with a few aspects of a second child thrown in, and again I struggled to understand him and not to expect too much. And the second son is very much the baby, and I struggle there the most to expect enough, to not make allowances for failings and the moments of irresponsibility he shows.

I think the point is that we parent based on alot of things, and one of those things seems to be which order we're born and what order our kids were born in. And I believe that a great goal is to strive to make real choices about how we'll relate to others and raise our children, rather than being "at the mercy of" our birth order!


birth order theory is so

birth order theory is so interesting. my eldest brother fits the profile but only one of my middle brothers fits the middle child type. and i think i probably fit into the youngest reasonable well.

My eldest daughter definitely fits the profile but my second daughter and youngest appears to be a mix of the second child and youngest child profile.

great article:)

Interesting article although

Interesting article although I don't know if I buy into the birth order theory. I think in my case gender probably shaped our traits more. The first born in our family (my brother) is not a leader, low risk taker, conservative or responsible. Due to a myriad of issues, that is the role I've had to assume (in the family space).

I think birth order might make a minor change, but when I look at my cultural background and most families from it, I believe that we were morso shaped by gender roles than birth order.

Birth order

I'd be interested to know whether middle children (of 3) are shown to be different to second born's. I've said since she was very tiny that my second born (and middle child) had middle child syndrome, even before there was a 3rd child. Always keen to have the focus on her, to not be lost between the smart, funny 1st born, and the "I'm the baby, gotta love me" last born.

Great article!