Learning And Development Learning and Development: Does Birth Order Affect Who Children Become? Birth order is a topic studied by many psychologists through numerous different studies and conflicting viewpoints. In respect to the order in which children are born, psychologists have labeled specific personality traits for each child. While psychologists continue to disagree on the amount of emphasis to be placed on birth order and personality, studies have shown family size can be a determining factor in a child’s learning and development. First-born, middle, youngest, and only children are the common birth order positions most commonly studied by psychologists. Alfred Adler, a major personality theorist, often studied the issue of birth order.
He believed that “the demands of each birth order position typically, but not inevitably, structure the way the parents treat the child and help define the child’s resulting personality,” (Parker, 1998, p.29). Frank Sulloway, author of the book “Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives,” states: Siblings compete with one another to secure physical, emotional, and intellectual resources from parents. Depending on differences in birth order, gender, physical traits, and aspects of temperament, siblings create differing roles for themselves within the family system. These differing roles in turn lead to disparate ways of currying parental favor. (Epstein, 1997, p.51) First-born children are more widely studied and have been found to have higher responsibilities within the family and a greater need for achievement. Strong self-discipline, a need for approval by others, susceptibility to social pressure, and conformity to authority and regulation are also common personality traits of first-borns. Middle-born children are more focused toward social relationships rather than fulfilling task demands and are the most ambitious and competitive.
The youngest children tend to be less adjusted than middle-born children, are most likely to experience feelings of inadequacy. Only children tend to desire being the center of attention, have feelings of inferiority, and tend to be selfish in regard to sharing personal belongings. Although these personality traits are widely accepted, a national sample by the Academic Advancement of Youth of John Hopkins University found little relationship between birth order and personality. However, a mild relationship between birth order and perfectionism was evident, (Parker 29). Family size is more commonly accepted as a contributing factor to birth order positions.
If birth order is held constant, the larger the size of a family tends to be represented by a lower average IQ. First-born, as well as only children are often believed to have superior intellectual development, which can be explained by the greater amount of attention and verbal attention given by parents. This makes sense because parents of first-born and only children are able to focus more of their time with these children. A 1997 survey discovered the impact of a sibling born during the preschool and early grade school years. The first-born child was significantly affected by the birth of a sibling, which resulted in an increase in emotional problems leading to an increase in behavioral problems during the first year. In addition, the learning development of the first-born child significantly decreased due to the substantial changes in the child’s learning environment (Baydar, Hyle, &Brooks-Gunn, 1997, p. 964).
First-born children tend to speak sooner than later-born children and have a verbal style known as referential. They are able to more easily learn and speak nouns and put two or more words coherently together. Later-born children are referred to as expressive because their first words often reflect social interactions they have picked up from their parents speaking with the older children, (Graeber, 1997, p.92). A 1996 study by Oshima-Takane, Goodz, and Deverensky concluded that although later-born children and first-born children did not differ in language development, the later-born children had a more advanced speech production (621). The combination of child-directed speech and overheard conversations between the parent and siblings account for this advancement.
According to Pfouts’ 1980 research, first-born children achieve at a higher level than later-born, even when the later-born children are more intellectually gifted. Little difference has been concluded between only children and first-born children. Only children do, however, tend to have a “significant intellectual advantage .. attributed from the quality of parent-child interactions in small families,” (Parker, 1998, p.30). Socio-economic class should also be considered as an effect of family size. Social status should be considered because families with a higher social status tend to have fewer children resulting in a higher proportion of first-born children. Also, as the number of children in a family increase, the intellectual development of the children decreases.
Studies have shown early-born children achieve at higher levels, which could be the result of socio-economic class (Parker, 1998, p.30). Few studies have been completed concerning birth order and family size within gifted populations. One such study, the Developmental Study of Talented Youth (DSTY) assessed the roles of birth order and family size in giftedness of academic ability. Family socioeconomic status, self-esteem, locus of control, perfectionism, and personality were used to assess these roles (Parker, 1998, p. 32).
The study measured the percentage of children in the Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth (IAAY) according to the child’s birth order and family size and compared these figures to the 1990 United States Census. The table below represents the percentages found through the study. A Comparison of Birth-Order Position and Number of Children per Family between the DSTY Sample and US Census Data DSTY Census Birth Order Only 16.1% 19.6% Oldest 48.8% 31.9% Middle 12.6% 16.5% Youngest 22.6% 31.9% Number of Children 1 16.1% 19.6% 2 49.9% 40.8% 3 24.3% 24.5% 4 7.2% 9.5% 5 1.7% 3.4% *5 0.8% 2.2% Source: Parker (1998), p.33. The table clearly points out a tendency among first-born children to be more academically gifted. However, the table also shows a higher percentage of gifted only children in the general population than in the DSTY sample.
In both samples, it is evident a smaller family size is more apt to produce more academically gifted children. The high percentage in the two-child family can be accounted through the language development survey. The second-born child has a learning environment somewhat similar to the first-born, but also has the advantage of learning from an older sibling, (Oshima-Takane, Goodz, & Derevensky, 1996, p.621). In addition to these findings, the survey also found an absence of birth order affects on personality, (Parker, 1998, p.36). Also, the survey pointed out family size plays a greater role than birth order and that birth order may actually indirectly measure family size.
The fewer children in a family, the higher percentage of first-born children that may explain why first-borns and children from relatively small families tend to be more academically gifted. * For the remainder of the paper, I will incorporate more information from additional sources not yet cited into the paper. Also, I will discuss whether or not personality plays a role in learning, and if so, whether or not it is affected by birth order. I will use more experiments as evidence of the findings. References Baydar, N., Hyle, P., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1997). A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of the Birth of a Sibling During Preschool and Early Grade School Years. Journal of Marriage and the Family, (59), 957-965.
Epstein, Joseph (1997). O, brother! (birth order’s effect on human behavior). Commentary, (103), 51-55. Graeber, Laurel (1997). Talking Timetable: Personality, not intelligence affects when your child will speak. Parents Magazine, (72), 90-92. Oshima-Takane, Y., Goodz, E., & Deverensky, J.L.
(1996). Birth Order Effects on Early Language Development: Do Secondborn Children Learn from Overheard Speech? Child Development, (67), 621-634. Parker, Wayne D. (1998). Birth-Order Effects in the Academically Talented. Gifted Child Quarterly, (42), 29-37. Psychology.