How your position in the family influences your personality

Firstborn, second child, middle child, only child, baby in the family: does birth order really make sense for our personalities? The short answer is yes – and no. It’s not so much about biological differences, but more about how your parents treat you.

Dr Ann Marie Creaven (first born) from the Department of Psychology, University of Limerick and general practitioner and mental health specialist Doctor Harry Barry (second born) joined Claire Byrne (middle child) on RTÉ Radio 1 Today with Claire Byrne to find out if where you were born in our family order influences the type of person you are. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation that have been edited for length and clarity – you can hear the discussion in its entirety above.)

“There will always be subtle differences from family to family, but it’s incredibly consistent. Kidding aside, it impacts our future lives and how our relationships will be and even our mental health. , which is quite extraordinary,” says Barry.

Sisters Venus and Serena Williams win the doubles at Wimbledon in 2002 Photo: Getty Images

Creaven first became interested in this field when he was ten years old. “So I was devastated when I learned in recent years that the evidence linking birth order to biological differences in personality isn’t really meaningful,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean birth order is irrelevant, it just means it doesn’t determine whether we’re more outgoing or open to experiences. It does mean though that parents can raise us differently and that can have an impact on family dynamics and how we behave.”

It’s not just our behavior, our health outcomes can also be affected by birth order, says Creaven. “There is a scattering of studies that look at birth order and one study found [later born children in large families] are more at risk of being hospitalized for preventable injuries, probably because parental attention is required a little more. There’s other research suggesting that parents have more communication with firstborns about sex and relationships, because for younger siblings, their older siblings sometimes pick up on some of that. .”

The oldest child

The eldest gets his parents’ full attention from day one, Barry says. “They’re going to be more organized, they’re going to be very responsible a lot of the time, they feel they have to do more. Parents expect them to take care of the siblings to come. They almost feel like this are they who should be in charge of the siblings even when the parents start to step out of the picture, as life goes on. There are often real fireworks between the eldest and the parents and, in to some extent, they kind of take the beating for the kids that come up behind them, they’re innovating.”

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Creaven adds, “The first child in the family is the first time parents become parents, so that’s the only time they’ll be focusing on a specific child. So they’re really the ones learning how to be parents.” Studies show that parents tend to be more relaxed with subsequent children. “It doesn’t mean children of different birth orders have different personalities, it just means they are raised in a slightly different way,” she says.

Parents also often tell their eldest that he is “the big one” and entrust him with responsibilities. “That’s why, in my experience, firstborns are more likely to suffer from anxiety because they want to be in control,” says Barry. “It’s almost that sense of control that’s been on them since they were young and they’ve worn themselves out, because they become the caregivers.” Even when it comes to twins, the older twin always becomes “the older” and will behave like that, he says.

The second born

“In my experience over the years, paradoxically, the people I see, say teenagers or young adults, are very often the second child,” Barry says. “I don’t know why, but my instinct is that the second child is kind of downwind of the first child. It’s almost like they’re in their shadow all the time. I see that. It’s a fake perception of course, because the parents loved each other individually, but that is the perception that the young person often has.

The Corr siblings in The Late Late ShowPhoto: RTÉ

“What that leads to, in my experience, is poor self-acceptance, a lot of insecurity. I find this group very often has trouble finding direction in their lives, it seems like they takes a lot longer to settle in from an emotional standpoint, from a relationship standpoint, and they’ve been struggling with that hurt emotion for a long time.”

“Depending on family size, you’re going to have the most firstborns and the next number of secondborns, so you’re just going to see more firstborns and secondborns in practice than you would with someone. ‘one that’s at the tail end of a family,” Creven explains. “But there’s a small line of research that over the last few years has been relatively consistent – so it’s not a horoscope – that finds the firstborn can follow a traditional career path or maybe what parents expect of them in terms of career paths, so it wouldn’t be surprising if later siblings find they’re a bit more lost, or unsure where to go.

The middle child

There’s a “slight” difference between being second and being in the middle, Barry says. “The middle child traditionally has a pretty nice little cushy number because he’s kind of hidden in the middle of it all, the parents kind of start to relax, the others take the hits for them,” he says . “It’s very interesting that the middle child is seen as the negotiator and it’s very common in fact, the peacemaker.

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“Certainly if you’re raised in a family where you’re close in age to older and younger siblings, you’ll find yourself in that role,” says Creaven. “So that doesn’t mean you actually have an innate skill, it just means you probably have a bit more practice.” Meanwhile, second and middle children will often try to excel in areas other than the firstborn or eldest, Barry says. “There is a desire to appear to stand out.”

The youngest

“The youngest kid, in many ways, he had the easiest place,” Barry says. “Because the parents are easy going at this stage. They get by and they start to realize they can get away with it – they’re always craving that bit of attention, they can be charmers, they can be risk-takers, but get frustrated very easily.Very interestingly, they have poor self-discipline, they often do poorly on the marshmallow test.

“The idea behind the marshmallow test is that you give them a choice: you can have one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. The ‘good’ child, say the first child, will often say ‘I’ll wait, I’ll I’ll have the two marshmallows later”. The youngest child will say, “give me the marshmallow”. see because they want it now, they want instant gratification,” he says. “But on the other hand, they’re probably more relaxed, probably more social. They don’t have the same pressures. In a way, they are the ones who can drift through life and let everyone else take the hit. “

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The only child

The only child is “all in one,” says Creaven. “There are some stereotypes that older kids aren’t as social or maybe lacking in social skills, but because that person probably knows each other, the evidence doesn’t support that. When you’re the only child, parents have all their eggs in one basket, they invest their attention in you, they give you opportunities to socialize and do your hobbies, and this can probably offset the socializing experiences you would otherwise get from siblings.

“While there are downsides to being an only child, there are also potential upsides. We see some differences in the motivations to succeed in life. Because when parents invest all their time in you, that child has a little ahead and it’s definitely easier to be motivated and to feel like you can succeed when you’ve gotten off to a good start,” she says.

Barry adds that only children are often very confident and assertive. “They seem to be accelerating faster, they seem to be growing much more independently. They’re well able to be on their own, they’re happy in their own space.”

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.

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