There are multiple beliefs regarding the contributors to character development. The order in which children are born is among the uncontrollable variables speculated to have profound influences on personality. Birth order is supposed to create situations in which one is exposed to specific conflicts and issues because of being the first, the middle, or the youngest child in the family. Nevertheless, because of the crisis peculiar to research reproducibility, the possible influence of self-deception bias, and parental differences, it is reasonable to think that birth order does not influence personality.
Birth order cannot predict personality traits because parental perspectives on task distribution between children greatly vary between families. In her blog post, Whitbourne (2013) highlights that factual and psychological birth order might differ due to multiple reasons, including one family member’s disease, family size, and other circumstances affecting relationships between siblings. Instead of being an independent contributor to personality development, birth order could work as a self-fulfilling prophecy in which children just learn to adapt to their parents’ stereotypes about siblings’ interaction (Whitbourne, 2013). Families are not identical in terms of supporting stereotypical views of older children as leaders and teachers and their younger siblings as those who should be free from strict rules and limitations (Botzet et al., 2021). For instance, parents who know the burden and responsibility associated with being the first child can avoid assigning the stereotypical child leader’s role to their firstborns or decide to teach their youngest children to lead. This variety of perspectives makes birth order’s independent influence on behaviors and personality traits a questionable idea.
Additionally, the illusory effects of being the first, the second, the youngest, or the only child on personality could result from self-deceptiveness or the desire to believe that birth older theories work. In her research project, Armitage states that most college students see predictions about their personalities based on Adler’s birth order theory as accurate (Beck, 2015). If such self-assessments were close to reality, the scientific community would have clear empirical evidence consistent with the mentioned theory. However, scholarly studies are persistent in discovering no strong links between birth order and personality traits (Beck, 2015). In their study of Big Five traits and birth order published in 2015, Damian and Roberts report that the difference between people’s Big Five test scores depending on birth order is negligibly small (Beck, 2015). The tendency to interpret information in a way to support one’s initial viewpoint can explain the difference between correlational studies and the students’ evaluations of the theory. Specifically, leadership competencies are considered something positive and conducive to personal success, so many firstborns would simply boost their self-esteem by believing that being the oldest child promotes such traits.
The replication crisis in studying birth order’s connections to specific psychological characteristics also suggests that one’s ordinal position in the family cannot predict anything about personality. In Born to Rebel, a book published in 1996, Sulloway offers evidence from meta-analytical research to argue for youngest children’s greater rebelliousness compared to their older siblings (Botzet et al., 2021). However, the reconstructions of the meta-analysis and research sample re-evaluations did not confirm any of the reported empirical patterns and called the methodological accuracy of birth order research into question (Botzet et al., 2021). Thus, research results’ inconsistency and heterogeneity do not add to the theory’s ability to describe reality and give rise to accurate predictions.
To sum up, one’s ordinal position among siblings is not a valid predictor of personality traits due to diverse factors. Such objections range from research quality to a disputable suggestion that all firstborns, middle children, youngest children, or only children are always treated similarly. Self-deception or the willingness to project categories with certain positive traits onto oneself could also be crucial in explaining the myth’s proliferation.
Botzet, L. J., Rohrer, J. M., & Arslan, R. C. (2021). Analysing effects of birth order on intelligence, educational attainment, big five and risk aversion in an Indonesian sample. European Journal of Personality, 35(2), 234-248. Web.
Whitbourne, S. K. (2013). Is birth order destiny? Why you shouldn’t let stereotypes dictate your fate. Psychology Today. Web.
Beck, J. (2015). Birth order is basically meaningless. The Atlantic. Web.