Procrastination is a type of habit characterized by counterproductive, needless, and delaying patterns when approaching tasks that need to be finished by certain deadlines. There are numerous behavioral, psychological, and physiological reasons for developing procrastination habits, some of which include personality, acquired behaviors, the familial capacity to raise children, personal experiences, and birth order. The latter has been disputed among academics on whether procrastination had a biological, social-constructivist, or behavioral explanation.
The question to be investigated in the scope of this research is last-born children have a higher propensity towards procrastination when compared to first-borns or not. Additional points of interest include the reasons why the answer to the initial question is positive or negative. The discoveries to be made in the course of the investigation would help understand the causes of procrastination, which would assist in developing strategies to overcome the habit as well as the issues associated with it.
The majority of research dedicated to birth order and procrastination typically focuses on psychological and behavioral aspects of the issue. The research by Gabriel (2015) investigated the issue of the impact of birth order and procrastination in students of Eldoret town. His findings were that procrastination was practically inexistent in first-borns (1.7%), whereas the number of procrastinators increased dramatically in last-borns, ranging between 45% to 53%, depending on certain tasks (Gabriel, 2015). The researcher seeks to explain these eventualities by relying on a variety of analysis frameworks, including the Pleasure Principle, personality theory, and resource dilution theory.
According to Gabriel (2015), the pleasure principle theory views procrastination as a way to delay the unpleasant feelings associated with starting specific tasks. The resistance to such outcomes is directly connected to the familiarity with the routine. First-borns, especially in families where the time distance between childbirths is low, are typically considered “rough drafts” by their parents (Gabriel, 2015). They are expected to be more responsible and serve as mentors and guardians towards their younger siblings. At the same time, they need to compete for the attention of their parents. Therefore, from a young age, the first sibling is required to overcome oneself to do things and chores they may not specifically want, motivated by emotional rewards given for a job well-done (Gabriel, 2015).
The younger sibling, on the other hand, tends to be showered in their parents’ love and appreciation, unconditionally, thus requiring much less effort to be satisfied (Gabriel, 2015). Such a behavioral pattern transforms into the ability to manipulate others (parents, older siblings) to do things for them, instead of achieving results through one’s own effort (Gabriel, 2015). As a result, they are less accustomed to the stress of doing unpleasant tasks that require to be completed by a certain deadline. This results in a much higher propensity towards procrastination.
Louis and Kumar (2016) mirror the findings presented by Gabriel (2015), though explain the reasons why first-borns are less likely to develop procrastination habits than second-born by relying on the concept of perfectionism. It is a multi-faceted trait often associated with leadership, academic achievement, self-efficacy, social connectedness, and achievement motivation (Louis & Kumar, 2016). Though perfectionism may develop a negative connotation, it usually means that people in possession of the trait strive to achieve better results than others. The researchers have found that first-borns are more likely to develop a perfectionist personality, and, based on the interviews, explain that paternal influences tend to be the primary reasons for trait development (Louis & Kumar, 2016).
The mechanism of developing perfectionism, which serves as a counterbalance for developing procrastination, is explained by initial parental inexperience with what to expect of a young child. This mirrors with Gabriel’s (2015) statement of the first-born being a “rough draft,” as parents typically place high expectations in their first (and for a time, only child), not knowing any better. With the bar being raised so high, the child has no other choice than to denounce any procrastination and indulge in perfectionism in order to fall in with his or her parents’ expectations (Louis & Kumar, 2016).
Younger siblings, on the other hand, benefit from parents learning from their mistakes, with a much lower expectation bar typically being set for them. As such, they do not need to compete as hard in order to receive parental attention and praise, whereas the older sibling is driven to compete even harder. The theory of resource dilution suggests that parental attention is a finite resource, meaning that if before, the first-born had (despite high expectations), access to all of their parents’ attention (Louis & Kumar, 2016). After the birth of more siblings, the expectations remain the same, while the available pool of resources shrinks, further driving up the competition (Louis & Kumar, 2016). In such conditions, procrastination can develop in very few instances, and only when the older sibling essentially gives up and uses laziness as a tool to cope with anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and a lack of parental attention (Gabriel, 2015).
Finally, some researches perceive the issue of procrastination in last-borns through the prism of kindness and self-compassion. Loona and Khan (2016) examined the effects of these qualities on the development of procrastination in individuals. The study found that first-borns typically had lower levels of self-compassion as a result of perceiving oneself as a sum of one’s own achievements. First-born individuals typically utilize external sources of self-esteem in order to grow, which motivates them to perform and excel. Mindfulness and isolation, which were some of the sub-parameters of self-compassion, on the other hand, were reported to be high (Loona & Khan, 2016). Last-born individuals, on the other hand, reported having high levels of self-kindness and low scores in mindfulness and isolation (Loona & Khan, 2016). These discoveries relate to the psychological explanation of procrastination being a coping mechanism against anxiety and stress. Individuals who love themselves more are likely to indulge in such a practice as an expression of short-term self-kindness, despite the fact that it usually comes with long-term consequences to one’s career, studying, or personal development (Gabriel, 2015).
All of the models and theories mentioned in previous studies, tend to explain the majority of cases of procrastination in last-borns, as well as the resistance of first-borns to such influences. However, they do not answer for numerous variations and exclusions from the norm. The proposed theoretical framework for this study is the psychological birth order theory. This theory makes a differentiation between biological birth order, which supposedly determines the role of each sibling in a family, and psychological positioning, which stands for what role a person occupies in the family hierarchy (Griggs, 2018). This theory is inherently more flexible and helps understand why some individuals develop qualities not attributed to their biological positions in the family.
I believe that biological and psychological theories are intertwined with the concepts of the social construction of family roles. Procrastination, in many studies, is found to be the result of a relatively easy upbringing by their parents. Individuals who do not have to strive for goods, attention, and position, typically develop procrastinating habits because there is no immediate motivation to do otherwise. The pleasure theory explains such developments well enough – if an individual is in a relative comfort zone, they would not wish to leave it until sufficiently motivated. At the same time, each family is different, with different parenting styles being implemented.
The idea of a “favorite child,” I believe, explains procrastination better than that of who is born first or last. If the first-born is the favorite child for both parents, they will receive acknowledgment and praise no matter their actual performance, meaning that the last-born children are left to struggle (Griggs, 2018). It was that way for the majority of humanity’s history – the first-born was always the inheritor of family wealth, and often enjoyed preferential treatment in the eyes of their parents. The last-born child, at the same time, used to inherit nothing, or very little (Halliday, 2018). These people often ventured outside of the family, in order to make their own fortune, and were characterized by high levels of personal drive, perfectionism, and determination to succeed (Halliday, 2018). These are the qualities of modern research attributes to the first-borns in the 21st century. Therefore, it is family favor that determines who is more susceptible to procrastination rather than biological order of birth.
Gabriel, C. K. (2015). Impact of birth order on procrastination among college students in Eldoret town. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(22), 106-111.
Griggs, S. T. (2018). The psychology of procrastination. Steven T. Griggs, Ph. D., A Psychological Corporation.
Halliday, D. (2018). Inheritance of wealth: Justice, equality, and the right to bequeath. Oxford University Press.
Loona, M. I., & Khan, M. J. (2016). Self-compassion and procrastination among first born and last born university students. Pakistan Journal of Psychology, 47(2), 45-57.
Louis, P. T., & Kumar, N. (2016). Does birth order and academic proficiency influence perfectionistic self-presentation among undergraduate engineering students? A descriptive analysis. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 38(5), 424-430.