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How Birth Order Affects Your Relationships, Career, and Life

Here’s how your birth order (first-born, middle child, youngest) affects your life, relationships, and job. Birth order research shows that certain personality traits are connected to birth order – which can change your goals (and how you achieve them!).

how birth order affects youOur parents and siblings change how we see ourselves, how we see life, and how we cope with stress. Dr Kevin Leman wrote the book on birth order – called, funnily enough, the The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are.

Before these birth order tips, here’s a quip from Shirley MacLaine: “You think you have a handle on God, the Universe, and the Great White Light until you go home for Thanskgiving,” writes Shirley MacLaine in Dance While You Can. “In an hour, you realize how far you’ve got to go and who is the real turkey.”

How Birth Order Affects Your Health

New research about birth order shows that it plays a significant role in developing personality traits, social skills, and even risk-taking behavior. Whether you’re born first, born last, or stuck somewhere in the middle – your birth order changes your perspective on your career, relationships, and even your risk for brain tumors!

Asthma and Allergies

“We were not surprised that birth order had an effect on the development of the immune system, but were surprised that this interaction persisted at least through age ten,” says Wilfried Karmaus, M.D., of the University of South Carolina.

Karmaus and his researchers found that first-born children are at a higher risk of developing asthma and allergies because of different conditions in the womb. Genes act differently in first-born children; allergic reactions are programmed during pregnancy, and affect your health later in life.

This research didn’t discuss how birth order affects introverted versus extroverted personality traits. To learn more about your personality traits, read Are You an Introvert? A Test for Introverted Personality Traits.

Brain Tumors

Birth order research shows that the chances of developing a brain tumor are higher if you have four or more siblings. Andrea Altieri of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg found that brain tumor rates are higher among those who have younger siblings. Later borns or youngest children are less likely to develop tumors.

Altieri suggests that “infectious agents” cause the tumors; oldest children are more likely to be exposed to infections than younger siblings. Infections (or re-infections) in late childhood may contribute towards the formation of a brain tumor. This birth order research shows that birth order can affect brain development.

Related Reading: How to Help an Alcoholic Brother or Sister.

How Birth Order Affects Your Career

New insights about birth order are revealing that only children and first borns are more interested in intellectual careers. Later borns or youngest children tend towards artistic and outdoors-related jobs. Ohio State University professor Frederick Leong says, “Parents typically place different demands and have different expectations of children depending on their birth order.”

Only children are protected by their parents, which is why they may be more likely to pursue intellectual-cognitive careers versus outdoorsy or artistic ones. Plus, only children often enjoy more time and attention from parents, in comparison to kids with siblings. New insights about birth order show that parents tend to encourage only children and first borns towards more prestigious careers, such as medicine or law, which involves higher education and rigorous intellectual challenges.

How Birth Order Affects Your Life

How Birth Order Affects Your Life

Leong pointed out that first born or oldest children start out as only children. Their role in the family is changed after other kids are born, which makes a difference in personality development. This change in role makes it difficult to determine exactly how birth order affects their lives and personality.

According to these new insights about birth order, parents tend to relax as more children are born. If they only have one child, parents may have higher expectations. For instance, they worry if the child chooses to be a surfing instructor or poet because of career instability and financial income. By the fifth or sixth child, insights about birth order reveal that parents mind less about their children’s career choices (perhaps because they have less time and energy!).

For more career and personality tips, read Best Jobs and Careers for Introverts – From Online to On Air.

Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry

Psychology student Julia Badger from the Aston University in Birmingham, UK researched birth order and academic performance. Academic sibling rivalry is more likely to affect last borns than middle or first borns. That is, youngest children may feel more pressure to excel at school. Regarding birth order, Badger also found that oldest children are more dutiful and responsible (not surprising, since they’re often asked to help around the house or take care of younger siblings).

Sibling rivalry, which is affected by birth order, also plays a huge role in developing adult relationships and healthy lifestyles.

Have you noticed that birth order has affected your life? I have traditional first-born personality traits, and I’m married to the youngest sibling of six who has traditional last-born traits! We complement each other perfectly, I think 🙂

If your siblings aren’t the problem, read How to Deal With Difficult Parents.

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5 thoughts on “How Birth Order Affects Your Relationships, Career, and Life”

  1. Research on birth order from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that birth order has a teeny tiny effect on people’s lives. It’s a really complicated issue that isn’t easy to study!

    Here’s what the researchers said: For those who believe that birth order influences traits like personality and intelligence, a study of 377,000 high school students offers some good news: Yes, the study found, first-borns do have higher IQs and consistently different personality traits than those born later in the family chronology. However, researchers say, the differences between first-borns and ‘later-borns’ are so small that they have no practical relevance to people’s lives.

    This study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

    “This is a conspicuously large sample size,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts, who led the analysis with postdoctoral researcher Rodica Damian (now a professor of psychology at the University of Houston). “It’s the biggest in history looking at birth order and personality.”

    The analysis found — as a previous large-scale study did — that first-borns enjoy a one-IQ-point advantage over later-borns, Damian said. The difference is statistically significant but meaningless, she said.

    The analysis also revealed consistent differences in personality traits between first-borns and later-borns — first-borns tended to be more extroverted, agreeable and conscientious, and had less anxiety than later-borns, for example — but those differences were “infinitesimally small,” amounting to a correlation of 0.02, Roberts said.

    Here’s the link:

  2. I am 1st born of 4. Girl, girl, and 2 brothers. There is just a 5 year gap between each of us. There is dysfunction in our family, but a blame that on the other 3 :-). Academically, to be honest I was lazy. My loss as had to make up for that later in life. I also, felt quite happy to let people (unaware of our ages) assume my sister was the oldest. Again, probably lazy, no reponsibilty to set a good example. None of this of course passed muster with my parents. Unfortunately, my father died when he was just 39 and I was tasked to tell my siblings. I’m 52 years old now. Still the eldest, but at this age even though I like to think I am, not wisest.

  3. My comments relate as much to gender as well as to birth order: I’m 65, the eldest of five (girl, girl, boy, girl, boy) but we were divided by gender & education. Only the boys were considered worthy of ‘educating’ (university, profession etc leading to far greater earning power & associated freedoms), despite my winning a scholarship at 11 and being told I was a ‘bright’ child. I was born at a time when some parents believed it was pointless educating females who would ‘only get married and have babies’. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit to a lingering resentment towards my parents & my brothers and a strong sense of injustice. I suspect the elder of my (younger) brothers feels he should hold the position of head of our (dysfunctional) family now my parents are dead (a male role?). I’ve worked hard to get past the resentment, and have educated myself to professional level, but there’s still some residual anger at having been relegated as a child to second-class citizen because of my gender. I have leadership qualities (personality or role as eldest?) as do many firstborns, along with a desire for intellectual stimulation and recognition, probably stemming from the old feelings of inferiority which I probably should have overcome by now! I realise this is very much related to the times in which I was born, and how much things have changed – thank goodness!

  4. I have noticed birth order in my family….I am the eldest daughter…As for the health wise they are spot on….However, I am treated more like the last born in my family. The roles have been reversed, because of a dysfunctional family system. Although I do have tendencies of both, but the predominately is switched my younger sister is more like the first born and I am like the last born…