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How birth order affects our personalities fascinates many of us,
and it's not just at Christmas time when we're
arguing over why the elder sibling has to peel potatoes
and why everyone's forgotten
the middle child has no gravy with their lunch.
Although you may not realise it,
you've probably absorbed these stereotypes from birth order theory.
Birth order theory is the idea that
our position in our family affects our personality characteristics,
our IQ, and even our life success and that these last long into adulthood.
Now at this point I should probably let you know
that I am the youngest of four, but I absolutely promise you
that that will not bias in any way whatsoever
the information I'm about to give you now.
One of the most influential characters in this story
was Alfred Adler - an Austrian physician and psychotherapist.
He wanted to try and understand why children
who were raised in the same family seem to have different personalities.
Now at this point I should mention that Alfred Adler
was actually a middle child - the second of seven children.
In 1927, Adler theorised that birth order affected personality hugely
because parents treated children differently
according to whether they were the eldest or the youngest.
He also believed that parents comparing siblings
created a sense of inferiority.
Since then, researchers have added to this list
of birth order characteristics.
Here are just some of them - they might ring a few bells.
For example, the older child -
thought to be a people pleaser, responsible, reliable, cautious
but perhaps bossy and controlling.
The older child traditionally
has been thought to be given a lot of parental attention
so when the second sibling arrives
they can often feel neglected or dethroned.
Famous older children include Winston Churchill and JK Rowling.
The middle child is thought to be often left out, ignored,
so they tend to be the peacemaker.
They tend to adapt their personality to fit in
with perhaps what the older child has already taken away
in that family niche.
Famous middle children include Bill Gates and Madonna.
The youngest child is often thought of as being self-centred, manipulative,
fun, entertaining and charming.
The youngest child is often thought
to have to work harder to get attention
and to maintain independence and seem different from their siblings.
Famous younger children include Cameron Diaz and Mahatma Gandhi.
And if you don't have siblings then don't feel left out
because Adler had something to say about the personality characteristics
of people without siblings.
Only children are often thought to be self-centred, independent,
looking for approval and mature.
As they have no older or younger siblings
they often take on the personality characteristics
of either the eldest child or the youngest child.
Famous only children include Daniel Radcliffe and Leonardo da Vinci.
In 1996, American psychologist Frank Sulloway
theorised that these differences may be due
to Darwin's theory of competition and survival.
Within every family, every child has to compete
for parental attention and investment in order to survive.
So for example, the elder sibling
taking on the responsible role of looking after the younger siblings
so when the younger child comes along
they have to develop a different way of being in that family
and find their own niche
for example, by being more adventurous.
By doing this they reduce competition
and enhance cooperation within the family -
so chances of survival for everyone are increased.
Over time, results of further studies have been inconsistent.
Some have totally backed up Adler's theory,
others have totally negated it.
Some studies have shown there are differences
but that these are not meaningful and others have shown that actually
any differences found are due to study design.
For example, how many siblings are in a family
or the relative ages of siblings.
So who knows?
Birth order is a fascinating subject
but pinning down exactly what impact it has, if any,
is still a massive challenge.
But from a personal perspective,
I still think the youngest child is by far superior.
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Are you the eldest child? Youngest? Are birth order stereotypes true? | BBC Ideas

13 Folder Collection
Amy.Lin published on January 2, 2020
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