- Term Papers, Book Reports, Research Papers and College Essays

Birth Order and Personality

Essay by   •  February 10, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,776 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,932 Views

Essay Preview: Birth Order and Personality

Report this essay
Page 1 of 12

Birth Order’s Effect on Personality

Birth Order’s Effect on Personality

Environment determines to some extent the personality of a person. There are numerous factors in the environment which could determine variations in the personalities of different individuals. There are factors which are inherent to the environment and there are those determined by the manner by which individuals enter into a particular environment. In much the same way, how an infant’s entrance into the world determines in large part how parents and others will respond. In this paper particular view will be taken on the matter of timing that an infant is born.

When an infant is born determines in large part the emotions of his or her parents and relatives. Moreover, whether or not the infant is the first child, has older siblings, or is the youngest child to be born to the family impacts the environment he or she is to grow up in. These three different scenarios are descriptive of birth order. A person’s rank by age among his or her siblings is called birth order (Sulloway, 2001). Birth order thus determines the environment into which a child is born and the responsive and adaptive responses of the child. This cycle of interaction extends all the way up to adulthood (Stewart, Stewart, & Campbell, 2001). Thus, one can reasonably infer that birth order determines the relatively constant pattern of personality observed in individuals. Birth order therefore significantly affects the personality of the individual.

This paper will take a closer look at this phenomenon through an introduction to the field of study regarding the link between birth order and personality. To set the stage, theories of birth order will first be briefly reviewed. The progress of studies from this initial theoretical stage has caused the study of two types of birth order: biological and psychological. These two will be differentiated herein. Finally, the distinguishing characteristics of individuals with varying birth orders will be discussed. The personality traits associated with first-borns, later born children, and only children will be outlined herein. By the end of this paper, it will have been made clear that indeed birth order has a role in molding the personality of individuals.

Theories on Birth Order

Several theories on birth order have been established dating back to the time of Freud and Jung. Freud himself a first-born child was known to exhibit characteristics typically associated with first-borns. Two significant theorists who have helped to build up the credibility of the study of birth order will be introduced here. The first provided the basis for the discussion regarding birth order and the second revived the said discussion after critics had caused the temporary disbelief to prior studies.

Alfred Adler

Among the first psychologists to consider the effect of birth order on personality was Alfred Adler. Adler espoused that birth order was determinative of the amount of attention that children garnered from their parents (Adler, 1964). The first perspective on birth order thus stemmed from a belief that individuals competed for attention and for areas of strength as a response to parental expectations.

In Adler’s theory, the first-born gains the exclusive attention of his or her parents вЂ" for a season at least. This prompts the first-born to explore confidently his or her areas of interest knowing that any accomplishments he or she attains will give satisfaction to his or her parents (Adler, 1964). However, upon the birth of the second child, the parents’ attention shifts to the younger child. This causes the first-born to moderate actions and levels of confidence (Adler, 1964). Moreover, on the part of the second child, there is a need to gain competence in areas so that he or she might receive attention in the same manner that the older sibling does (Eckstein, 2000). This competition for competence determines the enduring personality traits of the children.

Adler himself was a second child and that this fact greatly influenced the formulation of his theory on birth order (Eckstein, 2000). The distinguishing characteristic of Adler’s theory is the marked power struggle between siblings. Personality thus becomes a concept strongly influenced by a basic urge for attention and respect. At a young age, these same goals are gained from parents the struggle extends to adulthood as common relations and peers.

Frank Sulloway

For a period, birth order was refuted and phased out from serious study. However, as a result of Sulloway’s release of his own studies, birth order theories gained respect once again (Paulhus, Trapnell, & Chen, 1999). Frank Sulloway follows Adler’s theory in the sense that he also believed sibling differences attributed to birth order resulted from competition between siblings. Sulloway (1996) held that siblings utilize differences in size and strength to overpower younger siblings. These younger siblings in turn resorted to counterstrategies in order to hold their ground against older siblings. Such a discussion is certainly reminiscent to Adler’s own speculations.

However, Sulloway’s studies brought in a new dimension to the study of birth order. It was through his research that the Big Five Personality traits, namely Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, were introduced into the study (Sulloway, 2001). Data was gathered reflecting the personality dispositions of individuals based on birth order. This served to give credibility to this particular area of study as the reliability of the Big Five measure lent credence to the questionability of birth order research.

Biological and Psychological Birth Order

Before a discussion on the particular characteristics of individuals belonging to particular birth orders can be had, there is a need to define the two types of birth orders. These types are more means of classifying perspectives through which birth order’s effects on personality may be seen. The first type has to do with actual ranking of siblings based on age. Biological birth order takes the narrow and literal perspective as regards the ranking of siblings belonging to a family (Sulloway, 2001). Thus, it is the singular factor of sequential arrangement of sibling birth that is focused on as the determinant of personality development.

In this regard biological birth takes little to no concern with the other factors that may be present in the



Download as:   txt (17.2 Kb)   pdf (185.4 Kb)   docx (15 Kb)  
Continue for 11 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2011, 02). Birth Order and Personality. Retrieved 02, 2011, from

"Birth Order and Personality" 02 2011. 2011. 02 2011 <>.

"Birth Order and Personality.", 02 2011. Web. 02 2011. <>.

"Birth Order and Personality." 02, 2011. Accessed 02, 2011.