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Where you're at matters, at least when it comes to birth order


Malena Lott June 10th, 2010

Ah, sibling rivalry. While parents may get the blame for our crappy childhoods, it's the family dynamics and how the child views himself or herself within the family constellation that shapes our beha...

xperimental model, the child that the parents learn on," said Beasley. Firstborns are naturally "only children" until the sibling comes along, so they do share some traits with the only child.

"If firstborn is male, he is seen as the chosen one," Beasley said. "Parents read the parenting books and take more pictures of the firstborn, putting a lot into that child."

However, he notes that "if the firstborn is female, she is high-achieving until a boy is born, and all of a sudden, he becomes a firstborn and she relinquishes the role."

Like only children, firstborns are overachievers, often reading parents' minds and giving them what they want. The firstborns are usually the ones that end up taking care of siblings and parents in older age, especially if the firstborn is a female.

Beasley notes that firstborns like leadership positions in corporations or on the political stage and make good professionals, doctors and attorneys. A study by Vistage, an international group for corporate heads, found that 43 percent of their CEOs were firstborns.

Careerbuilder.com conducted a survey that found that firstborns were much more likely to earn $100,000 or more annually than their siblings.

No big surprise, then, that our own governor, Brad Henry, is a firstborn, as is former U.S. senator and the president of the University of Oklahoma, David Boren.

Middle-bornMiddle children are a puzzle, both to researchers, and often to themselves. If there are three children, approximately evenly spaced, then the middle child is both the younger to one and the older to another, and may get picked on by both sides. In self-esteem studies, middle-borns score lower than first- and later-borns.

On the upside, middle-borns are likely to zig when the sibs zag, also known as de-identifying, which could lead to riskier and sometimes more rewarding endeavors, whether personally or professionally. Middle and later-borns are more likely to play sports, risking injury for glory.
You don't have to say that twice to the Stoops boys. Oklahoma Sooner football coach Bob Stoops comes from a big family, and is the second oldest of four sons, but also has two sisters. He and two of his brothers are football coaches, and being competitive is a common trait among siblings in big families as they each vie for resources. 

Beasley notes that middle-borns are good team players and negotiators, so while they may not crave leadership positions, they may approach things differently when they do.

Country singer Toby Keith is a middle-born, although as the oldest son, he carries firstborn traits, too.

Last-bornLeading birth-order researcher Frank Sulloway says last-borns are even more agreeable and open to new adventures. Beasley adds that by the time the "baby" comes along, the parents have relaxed rules, and as the child grows and the parent realizes this is the "last one," the child gets more attention, more photos in the scrapbook and special treatment.

The last-borns love adventure and fun, and may come across as more charismatic than their older, more serious siblings. Many comedians, such as Stephen Colbert, who is the last of 11 children, use humor as a signature trait.

As for later-borns being more artistic, Oklahoma is rife with superstars to back it up. Carrie Underwood, who recently became the only woman to ever win the Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year twice in a row, is the third of three girls.

Country music legend Garth Brooks? Yep. Youngest of six.

The Flaming Lips' lead singer, Wayne Coyne? Fifth in a line of six.

Oklahoma legend Will Rogers, who knew a thing or two about being in the spotlight in many arenas, happened to be the last of eight children.With that many siblings, you'd have plenty of material to write or sing about.

Thunder basketball star Kevin Durant is the second (and last-born) of two boys, who finds himself in the company of Chesapeake founder Aubrey McClendon, one of the Thunder's owners and the youngest of two boys.

Adopted and stepchildrenAdopted children take on the roles of their functional order, not biological order, so even if a child was biologically the third born, if they were the first child adopted, their birth order would be considered firstborn, because of how their parents would raise them.

Emmy- and Tony-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth is adopted and has an older brother, making her the "last-born," as well as an only girl. 

What of stepchildren and blended families? Beasley states that if the clans are truly blended, such as in "The Brady Bunch" scenario, then that would change the birth-order dynamics. However, most of the time, the blended families are not being fully raised together, due to visitation schedules, so it would only apply to the birth order of the siblings they live with most of the time.

He cautions that spacing matters, as well as the gender of the siblings. The only girl of three children would be treated differently than the middle child of three girls. Parents, and the kids themselves, may work harder to create niches of same-sex siblings, putting labels on the children: the athlete, the singer, the actor and so on. Labels can backfire, especially if the child no longer likes the label or wants to switch to a new pursuit.

Regarding spacing, if the children are spaced more than five years apart, the younger child gets the traits of a firstborn, and the youngest of the oldest set of kids may keep many of the last-born traits. This happens often when a parent remarries and has more children.

William Cane, author of "The Birth Order Book of Love," claims knowing your partner's birth order can help in making a positive love match, and potentially avoiding trouble down the road. The tested theory claims that people are less likely to have a lasting relationship with someone who shares the same birth order, and in fact, in looking at one study of divorces, this seemed to be the case. For example, firstborns didn't like being bossed around by their firstborn spouses.

Cane said that good matches are often the roles we are familiar with growing up, so if you are the youngest and had an older sister, then someone who was an older sister and had younger brothers would get along well.

While personality and predicaments are determined by family size, demographics and even geography, birth order plays a role that shouldn't be ignored. Beasley advises parents can be aware of how they are treating their children and give them all the attention and respect they deserve, no matter when they arrived.
 
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