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The Effect of Birth Order on Job Selection

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The Effect of Birth Order on Job Selection

John Hall

PSY 210-20

Professor Sides

October 30, 2006

In the United States today, most individuals belong to several different social units that are structured, such as family, school, and the workplace. An individual's placement and response within these units can be predicted by previous social interactions of themselves and others like them. The study of social interaction makes this predictability possible by defining different trends within distinct social groups (Curry, 2005, p. 4). Within a family, the structure is determined through birth order, which in turn develops social interactions that have profound effects on personality. The disposition that a person develops among siblings with respect to birth order crosses over from the social setting of the family to that of the workplace.

Within family dynamics, siblings have a penetrating influence on a person's characteristics. Jeffery Kluger (2006) explains "from the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales...our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride" (p. 47). This sibling influence is enhanced by the fact that these relationships tend to be the longest throughout one's lifetime (p. 48). In this long-term relationship, each individual involved takes a role that is ultimately influenced by birth order. The roles are generalized as the "firstborn," "middle child," and the "baby" (Leman, 1998, p. 7).

Psychologists have been examining these roles for over a century finding different trends that have much to do with one's job selection and success (Sulloway, 1996, p. 55). Contemporary research also emphasizes the occupational effect of birth order. Because a family is often an individual's first socialization, group interaction begins developing here. Whether one is born first or last, conflict will always arise among siblings. This is the result of the large amount of time that they spend with one another. According to a study published by Penn State University in 1996, by the age of 11, siblings spend 33% of their free time with one another, more than with parents, friends, or even alone (Kluger, 2006, p. 48). This conflict among young siblings is a hidden agenda for socializing, with points in negotiation and rule-making. Depending on the way they develop, these skills become valuable down the line at the workplace (p. 49). However, the field in which the workplace is a part of is statistically more determined by who is born first and last.

Each of the generalizations, "firstborn," "middle child," and the "baby," maintain certain personality traits developed by family labeling and pressures as well as one's self-image (Forer, 1976, p. 83). Personality tests from around the world continually group these traits under five broad dimensions: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Extraverts are characterized as having large amounts of sociability with attributes such as warmth, friendliness, and gregariousness, while maintaining self-confidence and a high activity level. "Firstborns" generally fall into this category because throughout childhood they possess attributes of size, strength, and intelligence over their younger siblings (Sulloway, 1996, p. 68). With such charismatic attributes, "firstborns" are generally excellent leaders and achievers. For example, 56 percent of the United States presidents have been "firstborns" or "functional firstborns," meaning they had an older sibling who died at a very young age (Leman, 1998, p. 85).

For example, according to Dr. Kevin Leman (1998), among these presidents was the "serious, studious, overachieving" Jimmy Carter, who worked his way up from governor of Georgia. On the other hand, there was Jimmy's baby brother "Billy, who got his own share of the spotlight for his beer drinking and rude, off-the-cuff remarks, many of which were designed to embarrass his big brother" (p. 85). Billy's actions are typical of the "baby," who is normally overshadowed by the achievements of elder siblings, therefore needing to make a statement in any way possible. He is displaying the combined character traits of extraversion and neuroticism, both typically "firstborn," but as this instance illustrates, stereotypes of birth order are not accurate all of the time.

Along with extraversion, "firstborns" often exhibit the character trait of conscientiousness, and display a strong motivation to gain parental favor by meeting expectations. This is achieved through academic excellence, as well as aiding in raising the younger children in an attempt to be the "responsible" child of the family (Sulloway, 1996, p. 69). They tend to be exacting, precise, hard-driving, and assertive in order to stay ahead of younger siblings (Leman, 1998, p. 82-3). This conscientiousness often leads the older child to choose a vocational field that requires advanced college education, such as accounting, engineering, architecture, or medicine (Forer, 1976, p. 85). "Firstborns" also tend to display neuroticism because they are jealous of another child stealing their parental attention. This can create an emotional intensity that can either be positive or negative to their role in the workforce (Sulloway, 1996, p. 70).

The "middle child" often maintains the personality trait of agreeableness. Due to an existing family structure that places him/her in an inferior position to the "firstborn," this child finds ways to avoid physical confrontation through "acquiescing to firstborn demands, cooperating, pleading and whining, and appealing to parents for protection." However, through the development of these skills, the child often becomes compassionate and peer-oriented (Sulloway, 1996, p. 69). They tend to be sociable, but in a more subdued way than that of the extravert "firstborn." To elevate self-esteem and to secure an identity, friendship is essential to the middle child because more importance is given to him/her than inside the family environment where the attention is all but spoken for by the "firstborn" and "baby" (Leman, 1998, p. 155). Being in the middle does have its advantages though, giving the individual the opportunity



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