Does Birth Order Determine Personality?
Development of personality has turned out to be a contentious issue as psychologists’ endeavors to explain whether birth order could have any influence on personality. Many people have come to believe that their characters, values, struggles, as well as life successes, vary in terms of their birth order. Birth order is the arrangement of how children are born in a family, starting from the first born to the last born. Individuals can change their perceptions, but they cannot change the time they were born. According to Hartshorne (2010), individuals’ birth position in the family affects both their IQ and their personality. Hartshorne’s argument corresponded with Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud, as well as Carl Jung, who asserted that early determining childhood experiences had significant future adult connotations. This has made psychologists to reconsider their arguments and confirm birth order as the real influence of personality.
How Birth Order Determine Personality
The size of the family can affect individuals’ preferences and personalities. A family of one child implies that the child has all the resources at his/her disposal, but a family of more than two children has to spread its resources among the children. A family size usually determined by social factors that include education, wealth, and ethnicity (Hartshorne 2010). Wealthy and educated parents usually form families with fewer children compared to poor and low-educated parents. Thus, the possibility of a medical doctor coming from a well-educated and wealthy family is quite high. Large families tend to come from low socioeconomic class; hence, a third-born child is more likely to belong to a large poor family than a first born child.
One of the most vital contributions by Alfred Adler in behavioral science is the notion that birth order has a major influence on individuals’ personality. According to Adler, being older or younger child in a family exposes children to differing parental attitudes leading to different personalities (Schultz, D. & Schultz, S., 2012). First-born children usually receive undivided attention from their parents; hence, they lead a happy and secure life, until the second child is born. The first-borns are the only children that parents have completely to themselves; the rest of the children have to share the attention and resources. When the second child is born, the firstborn no longer attract attention, and he/she may begin feeling deposed.
The personality of the firstborn child changes immediately after the arrival of another child, and this demonstrate that there is a possibility of a change in personality when the family size expands. First-borns may become stubborn, naughty, destructive, and rebellious due to the changed status (Schultz, D. & Schultz, S., 2012). When firstborns are punished for their bad behavior, they perceive such punishment as a dethronement, and may end up hating the second child for the same. However, the extent of loss varies with age difference, as children aged eight years and above may not feel the effect of another child in the same way as a two-year child. Adler’s emphasis on social factors in developing personality; the essence of attaining goals; the ingenious power of self; and development of mental capacity, has influenced numerous personality theorists.
Most parents define children’s behavior based on their birth order. Parents usually excuse their children’s behavior in regards to their birth order, and they are likely to term their children’s actions “out of control” due to generalization of their situation. In social learning theory, children and adolescents usually spend more of their time with their siblings than with their parents, hence, serving as the role models and advisors of their younger brothers and sisters (Eckstein & Kaufman, 2012). This implies that first-borns act socialization agents of their younger siblings. Thus, being the first child increases one’s responsibilities, leading to change of personality.
In normal situations, children learn through imitating their parents as they grow up, and birth order plays a major role in siblings’ learning strategies. In terms of development, older siblings develop capacity to direct, as well as control interactions while younger siblings benefits by gaining social-cognitive skills from their older siblings (Eckstein & Kaufman, 2012). Older children are quite dominating and controlling in terms of teaching, hence, they are responsible for their younger siblings’ cognitive proficiency. The first-borns usually takes the “traditional” role, which necessitates them to be dominating role models, being meticulous and parent-pleasers, and outgoing persons. An experience where older siblings learn from younger siblings is an exception in this trend, and in such case, older siblings can become rebellious and refuse to cooperate.
Some research studies have revealed that birth order can influence personality development, leading to individuals’ occupational choice. According to Reid Claxton and Frank Sulloway, first-borns have higher possibilities of becoming managers due to their position in the family order, which trains them on managerial and leadership proficiencies (Grinberg, 2015). The two psychologists argued that birth order exposes individuals to particular behaviors that drive them to select appropriate occupations. In particular, Salloway’s research revealed that first-borns are usually “more responsible, traditional, assertive, achievement-oriented, antagonistic, conforming, jealous, neurotic, and organized, while last-born children are perceived to be “easygoing, adventures, altruistic, cooperative, sociable, unconventional, and rebellious” (Grinberg, 2015, p. 464).
Why Birth Order May not always Influence Personality
While some researchers possess convincing evidence on birth order’s effects on personality, other researchers have continued to refute such claims. Ernst and Angst (1985) claimed that studies that proved that birth order has an effect on personality were flawed, as they did not consider the concept of family size in generating different outcomes (Grinberg, 2015). Firstborns are likely to achieve higher marks in intelligence than their younger siblings, but this does not result from the birth order, but rather from social interactions within the family. Thus, if any difference in personality, such differences are unique to each child, and can have strong effects on the personality development.
Salluway’s theory seemed to assume that personality that individuals gained during their childhood remained intact until their adulthood, thus, it failed to consider how personality could change with age. In essence, personality traits changes as individuals grow. For instance, a child who was defiant at age five may develop a conservative personality as he/she attain the age of 30. Changing individuals’ perceptions usually begins by thinking about individuals’ motivation, as well as understanding what is vital based on experiences, education, and connections outside the family dynamic. It does not necessarily depend on which position an individual is in the family order.
Freud and Adler’s theory on childhood and personality development had the support of Karen Horney, but Horney did not support the concept of instinctual conflict. Instead, Horney proposed that family environments, as well as disturbances in early relationships results to basic anxiety, which makes children helpless (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, 2012). In addition, Horney affirmed that culture contributes more in personality development than biology. Personality results mainly from cultural influences, which make children, feel insecure and unloved leading to basic anxiety. Cultural influences include how different genders are treated, as well as allocation of duties in terms of gender.
Different experiences are likely to have effects on personality development. For instance, parents may allow first-born children to take care of other siblings, and reward them for being obedient. The theory of birth order being an influence on personality has resulted to biasness and favoritism among parents who treats first-born as more intelligent than the other siblings. In addition, school experiences, friends, as well as living conditions, can have implications on personality. However, smart parents have contributed in ensuring that children do not buy the stereotypes of birth order influence on molding personality by allowing children to develop independently in their own time.
For many years, psychologists had the perception that birth order was the most influential factor in the development of personality. Scholarly analysis on birth order effects on personality gained popularity when Sulloway suggested that first-born children have much to gain from their parents hence rule-bound while last-born kids are inclined to develop their own traits, thus, remaining unconventional. However, such theory is nowadays perceived in terms of children trying to win their parents’ attention through undertaking different roles in the family. Psychologists are unlikely to stick to the notion that birth order really matters because all birth order theories make instinctive sense. Birth order is just a fundamental variable that explicate the development of personality, as well as intelligence, within the family boundaries, rather than between families.
Eckstein, D., & Kaufman, J. A. (2012). The Role of Birth Order in Personality: An Enduring Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Adler. Journal Of Individual Psychology, 68(1), 60-74.
Grinberg, A. (2015). The Effect of Birth Order on Occupational Choice. Atlantic Economic Journal, 43(4), 463-476. doi:10.1007/s11293-015-9474-2
Hartshorne, J.K. (2010, Jan. 1). How Birth Order Affects Your Personality. Scientific American, Mind. Retrieved on 8 Dec. 2015 from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ruled-by-birth-order/
Pastorino, E., & Doyle-Portillo, S. (2011). What is psychology? Essentials. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2013). Theories of personality. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.