Saturday, October 4, 2008

Birth order and personality

I’ve always been fascinated by the issue of birth order and personality. I’m a first born and in school, many of my friends were first borns. We shared many characteristics, like conscientiousness in studies. A favourite conversational topic among us was griping about our younger siblings, how they never had the pressure to do so well in school and always seemed to get away with murder.

Later on, I read an article on the effect of birth order and personalities and it supported everything I’d experienced. Basically, research has repeatedly shown that your birth order does have a significant impact on your personality type. Here’s a summary:

First born children
Traits: Tends to be logical, reliable, ambitious, conventional and scholarly. Likely to be perfectionists, have strong powers of concentration and crave approval.

Weaknesses: Afraid of being dethroned, tends to be selfish and feels that they are never good enough.

Last born children
Traits: Tends to be creative, affectionate, experimental, outgoing and sociable. Usually risk-takers and idealists with a strong sense of humour, most likely to challenge the status quo.

Weaknesses: Can be capricious, immature, manipulative and dislikes commitment.

Middle born children

Traits: Tends to be flexible, diplomatic and get along well with others. Usually the peacemakers, although can be attention-seeking.

Weaknesses: Hates confrontation, can be stubborn, suspicious and rebellious. Does not work well with strict rules.

The only child tends to assume the traits of first born children. Children of multiple births, interestingly enough, although they are all born within minutes of each other, tend to have a similar hierarchy with one child assuming the role of the first born, another the last born and so on.

Isn’t it fascinating? These traits describe my sister and me to a tee, as well as Lesley-Anne and Andre. Michael Grose says it best in the title of his book “Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It.” I think that sums it up in a nutshell!

What intrigued me the most was that personality is largely inborn, yet it can be influenced so greatly by something as seemingly random as birth order. Did you know that the IQ of first borns is on average 3 points higher than their younger siblings? So is it nature or nurture? According to researcher Romeo (1994), “The influence of the family constellation is so strong that the lifestyles of the youngest children of two different families are more similar than those of the youngest and middle child of the same family.”

First borns get the most attention as they are the sole recipient of care and attention for a while. But with only adults for role models, first borns feel the pressure to be responsible and to live up to the high expectations of parents. They receive the most work and discipline.

The middle child is the one squeezed in the middle, so they often feel left out. They don’t enjoy privileges associated with being the eldest or the youngest, and see life as unfair.

The last borns are often treated as the “baby” in the family, so they are pampered the most and often viewed as less capable, so less is demanded of them.

Of course these are just generalisations. Even if they hold true for 90% of the world’s population, there will still be 10% who find they don’t fit into the mold. That’s the beauty of the uniqueness of human beings and families. There are so many variables that can change the way a child’s personality is shaped, including the number of years between the birth of each child, family size, marital status of the parent, and of course, parenting style.

Michael Grose believes that your birth order personality affects your working style and how you relate to others, so knowing your personality and your child’s can help you be a more effective parent. I would take this with a pinch of salt as I feel that your personality is shaped not just by birth order but other factors. I previously wrote about using the Myers-Briggs Type Personality to find out your parenting style – I think this is more helpful.

But just for fun, I found this online quiz which determines your birth order personality type. Based on your answers, it gives you your personality type which may or may not match your actual birth order. I took the quiz and no surprises, I’m a first born!

9 comments:

Lilian said...

Can you guess which birth order I am? People are often surprised when they find out. And when I see the description of the different birth orders, I have traits in all of them:

Firstborn: logical, perfectionists, crave approval.
Afraid of being dethroned, tends to be selfish and feels that they are never good enough.

Lastborn: affectionate, sociable. idealists with a strong sense of humour, most likely to challenge the status quo.
Weaknesses: Capricious, immature, dislikes commitment.

Middleborn: Flexible, diplomatic and get along well with others. Usually the peacemakers, although can be attention-seeking.
Weaknesses: Hates confrontation, can be stubborn, suspicious and rebellious. Does not work well with strict rules.

BUT the one that described me best would be Middleborn, and when I did the quiz, it showed I was Middleborn.

In actual fact, I am YOUNGEST.

monlim said...

Yes, I'm surprised you're the youngest. But then, I'm also surprised that you are Middleborn personality! I would've thot you're the first born type. Incidentally, both Andre and Paul, who get along so well and are so similar, are both youngest children with older siblings in p5 :)

Lilian said...

Brian's best friends are all first borns. There was Ivan who had a younger sister, 2 years apart. Cristobal who was the oldest with 4 younger siblings! And now Gherardo with a younger brother a year older than Sean.

I wonder also (not that it applied to me) if lastborns who are born many years apart from their nearest sibling take on the trait of firstborns.

Brian would definitely agree that less is demanded of Sean, something he complains about quite often.

And just now, he was reading your post and he just HAD to announce to Sean that First Borns rule the world...I said BUT last borns WILL change it, he immediately corrected me, WANT not WILL. He also had jumped to tell Sean about the 3-point IQ difference and how lastborns are less capable. Sean whined a little about the less capable bit, and I said it's not true Sean...but the little fella said, "it is," talk about disliking commitment!

monlim said...

haha, that's so hilarious! I think Brian, being your mature first born, feels more at ease with other first borns. I know I was like that as a child, I found younger children really childish. No wonder Brian and Lesley-Anne got along so well!!

Susan Newman, Ph.D. said...

You wrote: "Michael Grose believes that your birth order personality affects your working style and how you relate to others...I would take this with a pinch of salt as I feel that your personality is shaped not just by birth order but other factors."

I'd use more than a pinch of salt because a child's personality beyond what s/he is born with has more to do with how parenting than with the number of siblings that child does or doesn't have. My research of only children for my book, "Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only" suggests that only children, like one of the commentors can have traits commonly assigned to all the birth orders. Anyone interested in following a discussion of only children can do so at Psychology Today:
http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons

eunice said...

I'm the first born and scarily do have the characteristics that you posted. not sure about the IQ thing though...

monlim said...

Nice to hear from you, Eunice! Welcome to the first born club :)

bACk in GERMANY said...

Me too, joining the first-born club. Took the test at your link, and there's no doubt about it, although another test says that I was probably the only child!

The middle-born traits also describe my hubby to a T! Then again, in his case it's quite special cos he's male, while the other siblings are girls.

monlim said...

wah, the only male among females, must have been treated quite special! welcome to the club, Cindy!

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