Birth Order & Child Personality

Many theories have been proposed to define how personality develops, adapts, and is affected by the immediate (external) environment. Such external factors vary across different societies and cultures. One such personality theory is the birth order theory, which focuses on a person's birth order and their subsequent relationships with their family members, including parents and siblings.

Birth Order Theory

The birth order theory was developed by Alfred Adler in the twentieth century. According to Adler, the order in which the child takes birth helps in shaping their personality and development. It is also said that the community, family, social aspects, and different variables play an important role in shaping the personality of the child.

Birth Order Theory Does Not Include

However, the theory does not consider the traits, as it says that the traits are not essentially present when a child takes birth in his or her family. For example, a first-born child is not born with pre-defined traits in-built into their psyche. Instead, Adler focused on how family environments and other features play a role in shaping one’s personality, especially during the children’s formative years. Each society is different and within that, each family has their own way of living. However, there are many similarities between the interactions of parents and children and siblings as well.

Birth Order and Development of Personality

A child’s personality can be shaped differently depending upon their birth order as −

Only Child − Such children usually get more attention from their parents and other adults than their younger siblings. This means many of their early interactions involve individuals significantly older than they are. And, because these interactions with the elderly make them feel like "tiny adults," they can seem more mature than peers and siblings. Furthermore, fear of disappointing their parents can turn them into perfectionists who are well organized but anxious. Major traits of such children are −

  • Self-sufficient
  • Confident
  • Sensitive
  • Get matured at early age and use adult language
  • Self-centred
  • Enjoys being the center of attention
  • Pampered and often spoiled
  • Feels unfairly treated when not getting attention
  • Feasibly not be cooperative

First Born Child − First-born children are usually more attached to their parents, and they may be more conservative or traditional than the other children. First-born children, most likely, tend to keep their parents happy. At the same time, they also tend to be more attentive and careful when it comes to the rearing of their younger siblings, which develops a strong sense of responsibility and ethics.

Following are some of the traits that first-born children may reflect −

  • Leadership skill
  • Feelings of responsibility
  • Feelings of superiority (especially over the younger siblings)
  • May feel unloved and neglected when the second child is born
  • Can be controlling and focused on being correct about results
  • May use the trick of good (or bad) behavior to regain parents' attention
  • Can be protective or supportive towards others
  • Bossy or authoritarian about when it comes to rules
  • Feasibly more reliable

Middle Child − Middle children are generally less involved in the family in the sense that they look outside for the approval and acceptance. They could be less traditional and more independent. Their social skills are quite appreciable, as they keep interacting with different members. They listen to others more patiently and manage the social situation diplomatically. However, at the same time, the middle children are quite difficult to understand; this is probably the reason that they are referred to as "mysterious middle children."

Major traits of Middle children are −

  • More competitive
  • A peacemaker
  • Developing abilities
  • Managerial and leadership skill
  • Negotiating skill

Youngest Child − The youngest child or last-born child, usually, are the most experienced and independent from family pressures. Possibly, they are creative and carefree living individual. With each successive child, parents usually get relaxed and less worried about rearing children ideally and perfectly. They tend to set up their careers in arts and entertainment fields. On the other hand, because of having the youngest in the family, these children are likely to be pampered, and hence, they may act negatively or may behave immaturely.

Major traits of youngest children are −

  • Adaptable
  • Manipulative
  • Impatient
  • Outgoing and rambunctious
  • Joyful and charming
  • Learns to deal with both older and younger siblings
  • Sometimes may feel "squeezed" in the family environment

The Science and Theory of Birth Order

There are some theories which claim that the first born are considered to be much more intelligent and possess a high IQ level as compared to the later born. Another study has shown the fact that the first bond should get the maximum benefit from the surroundings as they received the full attention of the parents and other elders during the early years. They tend to absorb the way the adults around them speak. In comparison to this, the later born are exposed to not-so-developed ways of speaking as compared to their siblings. The same study has found out that the first ones possess higher teaching and leadership skills to become the role model for the younger sibling. The theory states that tutoring also improves the intelligence of older siblings (Gates et al., 1988).

Birth Order and Intelligence

There are some theories which suggest that the order of birth also affects the intelligence and health of the child. For example, it is said that being the oldest child in the family means a person tends to be much more intelligent as compared to the crystal. They are also likely to have birth weight as a comparison to their sibling.  Children who are later born have fewer chances of hospitalization. Some accidents are avoidable. It is concerning the lack of attention of the parents in a large family that the younger siblings tend to struggle with mental health.

Factors Influencing Child Personality

The factors which influence the personality of the child comprise their culture, family environment, and parental attitude. In some cultures, it is found that if a boy is born after four girls, he will be considered the oldest child and will be treated as superior compared to the girl child. Adler has noted that the age difference between their children, if more than three years, can be sub-grouped into various dynamics based upon their forms. Twin children always get some special treatment and attention from their parents, and all the roles related to the child's personality do not apply to them. The opinion of the child helps in determining their entire attitude and outlook. Birth order also helps in shaping personality, but it is not only considered a single factor (Eckstein and Jason, 2012).

Following are some important factors that influence in shaping the personality in addition to the birth order −

  • Biological − Children inherit many traits and features from their parents, including intelligence, courage, etc.
  • Social − Once children start interacting with their community, they learn behaviors and thought patterns from their experiences.
  • Cultural − A child growing up within a specific culture consciously or unconsciously adopts certain traits.
  • Physical Environment − Immediate environmental factors such as rural surroundings and urban surroundings both affect an individual’s personality accordingly.
  • Situational − As children grow, they face different situations such as meeting with new friends, experiencing failure and successes, etc., which help them adapt and change aspects of their personality.


The personalities of the children are largely based upon their order of birth. Adler had made or given a position to the children based upon their birth order and kept them in certain categories. The categories are the eldest child, the only child, the middle child, and the youngest child. He strongly believed in the fact that each child is treated in a particularly different way by their parents. The treatment they are given is based not only on their attitudes but on their birth order as well. For example, the oldest child must be more responsible as compared to the other children, and the youngest child is the most cared-for one in the family.


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