Researchers say birth order matters, does it?

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 COLUMBUS, OH (WCMH) – Does birth order matter? According to some researchers, the answer is yes.

In a study by economists at the University of Edinburgh, Analysis Group and University of Sydney, firstborn children were found to have better-thinking skills as well as a higher IQ test score than their younger brothers and sisters as early as age one.

The study, published in the Journal of Human Resources, observed close to 5,000 children from pre-birth to age 14, assessing the children every two years. The economists also examined survey data collected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Information was also gathered on environmental factors such as family background and economic conditions. 

Researchers believe that the older children benefit from receiving more mental stimulation and undivided attention from their parents. In the study, it showed that parents provided the same level of emotional support to all of their children. However, the additional attention that the first-borns received while learning tasks that involved thinking skills proved to result in long-lasting effects.

First-born children scored higher on tests including reading, matching letters, names, reading single words aloud and picture vocabulary tests.

As if that were not enough, a more recent report from 2017 suggests that second-born children are more likely to misbehave, sometimes with severe consequences. Joseph Doyle, an MIT economist, and his colleagues found that second-borns, especially boys, were more subject to discipline than their older siblings. The study, which involved thousands of sets of brothers in both the U.S. and Europe, found that second-born children are 25 to 40 percent more likely to face serious discipline as a result of their behavior. 

Researchers in both studies believe that parenting styles are a possible explanation for the differences they observed. Studies show that parents behavior changed as they had additional children. The first-born receives undivided attention from parents, while the younger siblings compete for it. They gave less mental stimulation to the second-born child, and took part in fewer activities like reading with the child, doing crafts and playing musical instruments.

“The first born has role models, who are adults. And the second, later-born children have role models who are slightly irrational 2-year-olds, you know, their older siblings,” Doyle said. “Both the parental investments are different, and the sibling influences probably contribute to these differences we see in the labor market and what we find in delinquency. It’s just very difficult to separate those two things because they happen at the same time.”

While all of this data seems to favor the first-born, younger siblings take heart. There may be a silver lining after all.

 A recent book, Social Understanding and Social Lives by Dr. Claire Hughes, from Newnham College, Cambridge, shows that younger children may be more successful than their older siblings later in life. Hughes and other scientists at Cambridge University believe that arguments between siblings increase social skills, vocabulary and development. 

Hughes surmised that second siblings who compete for their parents attention and argue with their older counterparts develop a greater social underatanding and learn to resolve disputes. 

Dr. Hughes stated, “Children can teach adults a few things about burying the hatchet as they often resolve disputes quickly in order to get back to playing. Children can be acutely aware of fairness between them and their siblings which can be hard for parents to manage, but this behaviour just shows how much they care.”

Hughes also said, “We see that Chinese children do worse in the tests we carry out than British and American children because of the “one-child” policy.

So, what does it all mean? Well, statistics suggest that your birth order may give you an edge in different aspects of life. All siblings are not the same. Those of us with siblings have long suspected most of these findings.  

One thing is certain about your birth order, you can’t change it. It’s a part of who you are, so embrace it. Life is all about embracing your advantages and overcoming the obstacles.  As my teenager, a thriving second-born would say, “I’ll do me. You do you.”

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