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Birth Order

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Birth Order and Its Effect on Personality

Reed Hooks


Adolescent Development & Cognition

Dr. Ken Springer

Spring 2006

On my honor I neither gave nor received any aid on this work.

Birth order affects the human personality, mind and path of life from infancy through emerging adulthood. Depending on one's placement, first, middle, or last, a lot can be understood. Dr. Kevin Leman, author of The Birth Order Book, says he could pick out an oldest child nine out of ten times by just looking at them. Often but not always, the characteristics of a person's birth order match them very well. But this is not to say that there are not exceptions. No person is bound to certain traits just because of their placement. Yet in the psychological field, doctors are discovering more and more that most people connect remarkably to the behaviors of others in their same birth order. The first, middle and last child have characteristics that grow and develop due to their placement, and this shapes their personalities. Birth order cannot explain everything about the human mind and behavior, but it can give people a clue as to how environments are altered by the order of birth and contribute to personality in various ways.

The firstborn child adolescents are one of the easiest to pick out. They are often "perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, list makers, well organized, critical, serious, and scholarly" in an academic setting (Leman, 1984, p.11). "In their role as surrogate parents, firstborns may overemphasize the importance of law and order" and they often "understand better the importance of power and authority" (Sulloway, 1996, p.55). Chances are the firstborn:

feels guilty easily, is placating, believes justice is people getting what they deserve, asks questions to orient self, is emotionally unexpressive, [and] displays a shaming type of humor, avoids offending others, daydreams about accomplishing things, is out of touch with self, is unable to connect with others, is a better leader than manager of people, is compromising, and wants to impress" (Isaacson and Radish, 2002, p. 73).

They have to deal with many challenges in childhood such as overcoming the loss of love to a new baby and winning that love back, which affects them through adolescence. In order to cope with failure and disappointment they suppress these emotions. With parents during adolescence, they tend to be demanding and competitive but have a flat and passive expression of emotion. In the life of a firstborn there is a period of time in which they are an only child, and in one study parents with their firstborn reported higher levels of stress than more experienced parents (Putter, 2003). This stress in parents commonly leads to overprotection of the firstborn which can have an influence on the fact that firstborns have a higher rate of depression during adolescence. Frequently they are easily angered by a lack of respect and attempt to mask it with their shaming humor and sarcasm. Firstborn adolescents often understand each other and are frequently understood by second, third and fourth born adolescents as well. Spiritually, they thrive from a loving community and enjoy relational settings. All this reflects the fact that most firstborns are extroverted adolescents. Psychologists and medical doctors have even managed to identify their driving style, which is cautious, like as though other drivers are jeopardizing their safety. Often firstborns find themselves listening only to others and not to themselves which may be a result of the firstborn's loss of love and their struggle to regain it. This supports their success in peer groups and how firstborn adolescents have a want to impress or please (Isaacson, 2002).

During emerging adulthood, firstborn children fit into jobs geared for their personalities. "Genius appears to occur among first-born children with a disproportionate frequency" (Thurstone and Jenkins, 1931, p. 120). Similarly, "IQ scores are slightly higher among first-borns because they spend much of their time in the company of adults" (Kassin, 2001, p. 468). They do well in business, research, counseling, promotion and public speaking. This is because their strengths are rooted in goal setting, compromise and leadership. Firstborn children in emerging adulthood try to impress others with their work and contribute discoveries, information and ideas accordingly. Firstborns have many positive personality traits but they also struggle in some areas. Firstborns in adolescence through emerging adulthood tend to posses a fear of offending others more so than middle or lastborns, creating a more pacified personality. They feel ashamed for appearing guilty and sometimes feel abandoned. Procrastination drives them to put things off while dreaming of accomplishing things. Firstborns are often uncertain or contradictory in their wants, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings as if they were stuck in the interpersonal concordance orientation of Kohlberg's theory of moral development. Another struggle for firstborn adolescents is achieving the distant goals they set for themselves and overcoming the disappointments when they are unable to do so. In addition, the parents of firstborns have been found to be more strict and demanding when it comes to academics. Parents can overestimate their abilities and put too much pressure on them which can cause a lower self-esteem when faced with failure, and ultimately may hinder some of their abilities (Ernst and Angst, 1983). However, if the firstborn can overcome these difficulties in adolescence and emerging adulthood, they will have an excess of abilities in which they can use in their career, family and life.

The second born is very different from the firstborn in a variety of ways. He or she "benefits from calmer, more self-confident parents and enjoys the special attention he receives as the younger of the two" (Wallace, 1999). The second born during adolescence has the advantage of learning from and modeling his adored older sibling in a multitude of settings including social, family, and scholastic environments. Despite the modeling of the firstborn, during adolescence the second born demonstrates somewhat contradictory behaviors in social settings. They are commonly quite and shy in new situations such as being in a new school or town, and yet sociable and friendly among familiar groups such as



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