Where you sit in the sibling line-up – eldest, middle, last, or only child – has an impact on your personality and shapes you as an adult. The birth order theory was first proposed a century ago by Austrian physchiatrist Alfred Alder, and has intrigued psychologists (and us) ever since. But exactly how much impact does your birth order have in your life? More than what you might care to think, says psychologist Meredith Fuller. So what we need to know about birth order to understand ourselves better?
If you are a typical firstborn, you are likely to be responsible, conscientious and reliable, often because you were expected to look after your younger siblings and set a good example.
“Firstborns tend to be more independent, and self-contained, and are perfectionists and achievement-oriented,” Meredith observes. “They are also better at delaying gratification, which is why we tend to see them interested in further study or working on developing their skills with more perseverance. They are often leaders in their workplaces or in their field.”
“The firstborn is the child that makes you into a parent, so you have a lot of anxieties with your first child that you do not have with your subsequent children. In that regard, firstborns can be loaded up with more of their parents’ struggle to find their own feet.” This means that firstborns are usually driven by anxiety, says Meredith.
“Middle child usually get the least attention, but they often turn into self-reliant, relaxed and reasonable adults,” explains Meredith. What middle children acquire and develop along the way are great negotiating and mediating skills. “Middle children are fantastic at improving relationship with others,” she says. “people will come to them if they are having difficulties and they are often the reference if there are any dramas going on in the family.”
It is also a misconception that middles lack the drive of firstborns. “I call middle children the quest achievers,” says Meredith. “They often end up doing really well in their lives because they have the capacity to just get on with things while everyone else is complaining or making a big fuss.”
Often talked about as “the baby” of the family, the last child is more looked after or adored. “They also tend to be the jokers of the family, which is why many entertainers and comedians are last-borns,” says Meredith.
Because less is expected from them, they can come to expect others to fix things or take responsibility for them. However, from a work prospective, one big benefit of being a last-born is that you ate more freed up to think outside the box, says Meredith. “Last-borns are not burdened by the rules of a work organization or society and, as a result, who can take risks that pay off for them. Entrepreneurs who build an empire on the back of an idea they have just decided to run with are often last-born.”
Only children share many similarities with the firstborns; they are conscientious, diligent and high-achieving. In fact, one leading birth order expert calls only children “super firstborns’.
Meredith says, “Like firstborns, only children get a lot of their parents’ attention along with their anxieties.” However, because no other siblings came along, an only child can feel like they shoulder all their parents’ expectations and hopes. As an adult, an only child may find that they work best self-employed or running their own show. “An only child has the inner discipline to build up their own business, consult or go freelance, which means they can determine how much contact they have with people,” explains Meredith.
Factors That Can Upset The balance
There are a few factors that can distort the way birth order works. Your gender, the age gap between you and our siblings and whether you grew up in a traditional or blended family can all muddle the way birth order works.
Clinical psychologist Dr Melissa Keogh says your psychological birth order is the position you “feel” you occupy rather than your actual birth spot in the family.
“For instance, you could be the second of three, which is typically a middle child, but if your older sibling is 10 years older than you and your next sibling is a year younger than you, you might take on the role of a firstborn child. In fact, research shows that 60 percent of people don’t identify with just one role.”
(Text by bauersyndication.com.au / Additional reporting by Natalya Molok)