Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Does Order Matter?

You've all read the research on personality being partially the result of your spot in the family genetic lineup. There's an equally large body of work attributing the qualities to socio-economic status, split families, education, etc. But I've always been intrigued by Alfred Adler's premise on birth order being linked to everything from character traits to future success in life. I've never been able to resist taking a look at the work and trying to apply it both to my siblings and me and to my own kids.

If you haven't looked it over recently, here's a simplification of Adler's Overview of Birth Order Characteristics:

Only child--used to adult attention; difficulty sharing; likes being the center of attention; prefers adult company and uses adult language; feels unfairly treated if things don't go his/her way

Oldest--responsible; parental expectations for oldest are high; can become strict/authoritative with sibling; tries to keep/recapture parents attention by conformity; strives to please; generally smarter than others in family

Second--the rebel you can't tell anything to; competitive; always trying to overtake the oldest

Middle--feels sandwiched in; adaptable; easy going; may have difficulty finding his/her place

Youngest--wants to be bigger than the others; may have huge plans that never work out; can stay the baby; may be spoiled; behaves like only child; if youngest of three allies with oldest against middle child

Twin--one is usually stronger or more active; can have identity problems; one often emerges as the leader

Only boy among girls-- may try to be the man of the family or be effeminate

Only girl among boys--may try to become ultra feminine or else a tomboy, trying to outdo boys; may try to please the father

Granted, there are as many spins on the birth order characteristics as there are scientists studying it! I once read that the third was more spiritual and then for more kids in the family you started over again with traits from first, second and third born. But just for fun let's look at the list above.

Looking at my own siblings: Oldest is bossy, responsible, and strict. Check. Higher IQ?? I don't think so! Second as rebel--oh my lord, yes! But he grew out of it, okay? I'm not sure who to count as the middle since there are three of us before the baby. I can't really get a read on that one. And youngest as spoiled? My parents bought her a horse. I never got a horse. (Forget for the moment that I couldn't ride.) Spoiled? Check.

Now looking at my own darling children, I'd agree that my oldest is responsible, a conformist and strives to please. (We used to call him the diplomat.) My second? Definitely could never tell him a thing, since he was born arguing. (As an attorney now, all that practice paid off!) And being fifteen months younger than his brother, he was always in a competition, always wanting the rights and privileges that his brother had by virtue of being older.

My third son talks a lot of being the middle child with all the woe-is-me claptrap that goes with it. The fact is, that child was the most spoiled of the three. He just won't believe it.

Our youngest happen to be twins, a boy and a girl so we have a double whammy going on. My daughter is the leader, and she was a bit of a tomboy; her twin is the entertainer, the clown, always the one to make everyone laugh.

Results: sort of a mixed bag, at least for us.

I always had my own take on the birth order sequence, personalized to my kids. Our oldest was known as THE DELEGATOR. The younger kids could get away with murder as long as they didn't bother him. If they did, he delegated punishment to his number 2 brother. He also felt free to re-delegate any chores he'd been given by us, LOL.

Number 2 son: THE ENFORCER The younger kids did not mess with him. And if number 1 brother said number 3 needed a punch, this is the one who meted it out. His snakebites are still legendary among his siblings.

Number 3 son: THE MEDIATOR Logic solves any and all problems. If that didn't work, he could always work to pit the oldest against the youngest, leaving him unscathed, because *he never did anything wrong.*

Number 4 son: THE ENTERTAINER He's the youngest boy (one of the twins) and keeps everyone in stitches.

Number 5 and the only daughter: THE INFORMER Every family needs one, especially if you're raising four boys. She knows where all the bodies are buried and she was more than willing to clue in the parents, until the fear of brotherly retribution taught her some discretion.

How about you? Do the birth order characteristics fit your family members? Or do you have better descriptors that nail the traits of your sibling or kids? Just for fun, let's hear what they are!


Debra Dixon said...


I LOVE your birth order picks based on your kids experiences. That cracks me up.

We have an only son, who has always been comfortable speaking with adults, accelerated vocabulary, articulate, off-the-chart smart.

He's impatient because he never had to wait for anything. LOL! However his momma is also impatient so I'm not sure I can blame that on his birth order.

And he tends to just take care of things himself rather than ask others.

Good blog!

Kylie said...

Deb--the characteristics for an only are sort of 'well, of course!' They're surrounded by adults so one would expect the increased vocabulary, the poise and ease around adults. My daughter often expressed the desire to be an only child when she was growing up, LOL. We told her if she'd been born first, she would have been!

Lori said...

Ours works a bit like this, and we found it matched my experience, my hub's, and our own children's.

Oldest: The know-it-all. Responsible. Smart as a whip. A-type (both in grades and personality). Straight arrow. Always right. Just ask - they'll tell you.

Middle: The Ostrich. Ignores everyone. Lives in own world. Can't compete with the know-it-all or the Entertainer, so doesn't even try. Awkward socially, but eventually works it all out on their own.

Youngest: The Entertainer. Bright. Free spirit. Artistic. Does everything in their own time. Laid back, but feels things very deeply. Appears to not care about anyone but themselves, but later in life becomes the peacemaker for everyone.

Kathleen O said...

I like your descriptions of your kids....

Our family does not fit the norm here.. We are all over the place and out of order. I am the oldest of three younger brothers, and the younger sister to the oldest brother. But I am the strong one, the one everybody looks to for direction. I am the go to person to get things done. I am the one they all look to for direction. But it has changed a wee bit since my dad passed away.. My oldest brother has taken a bit of the go to from me, which is fine by me.
My second youngest brother has been the biggest trouble maker god put on this earth and he is the whoa is me child.. Think because he is the smartest one of the bunch and did not live up to his potencial he blames the rest of us. The middele sibbling Mike can go either way, he talks a big game, but does not always finish the plays. But he has stepped up to the plate the last year and been quite responsible..
The youngest is the most troubled, became the real family man in the family, but chose the wrong woman to be his mate. He is the pleaser in the family, next to me.

So you see, we don't fit the "what order you were born in" mold.

lois greiman said...

I'm the youngest. Still trying to be spoiled. :)

My children fit their spots pretty well. The oldest is super smart and a little bossy. The middle is a funny diplomat and always has been. But our daughter, the youngest...she's her own person...almost more like an oldest. Hmmmm.

Helen Brenna said...

Kylie, I always find birth order interesting, if not always accurate.

Seems to me it all falls to pieces after a certain # of kids. I come from a family of 8 and not much of this seems to apply other than for the first 3 and the last. Too many middle kids, I suppose.

I think family tragedies can throw the whole thing off, changing things up.

My own kids are 5 years apart, so I've always heard they both should act more like only kids.

My oldest acts like an only, but my youngest doesn't. I wouldn't know how to begin to classify him. He doesn't fit any of the descriptions. Hmm, except for maybe the entertainer that you described.

I'm guessing entertainers tend to be the younger kids because they're always trying to diffuse things and get attention?

Lori said...

Should have mentioned above that I'm a youngest. I married a youngest. Get along best with my youngest. Is that a trend among oldests and youngests? I wonder about that...

Kylie said...

Lori, your family sounds like they sort of fit the Adler traits, don't they? It's fun to see the roles the kids take on in the family as they grow older!

Kylie said...

Absolutely, Kathleen. I think the roles siblings play in the family is the most intriguing. I'm second to the youngest of six, and I'm the peacemaker, the organizer, the one to take care of things. I can't say any of my siblings have real strong roles, as I can depend on most of them to help out.

I did my masters thesis on self-concept, so did a lot of research on personality development. The literature suggests that personality is pretty well set by age three (as is self-concept) which sort of scary...

Kylie said...

LOL, Lois, you keep right on trying! I think gender also plays a part. Especially if your youngest is a girl I think you get a lot of the responsible habits and strong opinions...but having only one daughter, I'm hardly an expert!

Kylie said...

Helen, I agree, the characteristics best describe the first two...maybe the third...and the youngest. There are way too many variables with all the 'middles' in big families!

There's more research that goes into the impact on the birth order characteristics if there is a death of a child, death of a parent, etc. But outside influences such as economic status and education also have to play a huge role in determining such things.

Kylie said...

Lori, interesting question. My mom was raised as an only (her sister is twelve years younger) but she most closely identified with her third and fifth children. Not loved us more...never that. But as parents we find our personalities mesh more with some of our kids, even though we enjoy them all. Maybe because you're more alike and share some of the same qualities? Intriguing...

Keri Ford said...

I am a mix of Second and Middle child descriptions--probably more or less who is around on which qualities come out. but that middle/second hash is also true in my life. My mom had two of us (me being the second one) and she remarried, giving me a younger step-sister, therefore making me a middle child. But step-sister lived a few states over, so I was only the middle child for a few weeks out of the summer and sometimes at christmas.

My older sister fits that Oldest category in regards that whole responsbile thing. She was in jr. high and would SAVE MONEY. I never understood. I always had the notion that playing with a toy was a lot more fun than watching money sit in a drawer.

Kylie said...

LOL, Keri--I *still* have that attitude toward money. It's to be spent! After our recent family vacation my husband was busily crunching the numbers to see what it cost. I'm like, "Why bother? The money's gone. Figuring how much we spent is just going to make you unhappy!"

Kathleen Eagle said...

Kylie, I really hate it when I fit a "type." I want to be unpredictable, unique, maybe even a little kooky. But I've long observed that Adler's birth order theory rings true, and I'm not exception. My sibs and I fit quite well and so do my kids. I'm the oldest of 3 and I have 3. I think gender aspect fits, too. We were girl-boy-girl. My brother was an athlete and that got him through without working too hard at other stuff. He found his niche--golf course superintendent--and does very well. My kids are boy-girl-boy. Elizabeth has always been kind of a caretaker, but she's studying to be a cop, and she does the home maintenance.

I don't know that IQ really figures in. I think the oldest is often an achiever, but that's not to say the IQ is any higher.

Kylie said...

Kathleen, I agree. The IQ certainly isn't a factor with my siblings or with my own kids, at least not how it relates to birth order. One site claims the IQ of the oldest is 3 points higher than the 2nd, which is 1 point higher than the third...what it doesn't point out is that such a difference is barely statistically significant.

Betina Krahn said...

Our birth order certainly set our roles in life. There were just two of us and we're 6 years apart. . . Sis was like a little mother to me and I was her dutiful, adoring audience. She has all the older/only kid traits and married an only child. I have all the younger kid traits-- peacemaker, entertainer, comforter-- and I married a middle child.

But as the years went on, we sort of evened up the roles. . . except she is still waaaaay pushier than me.

Interestingly, I had two boys. . . the elder is the classic only/first kid, and the other is the pacifier, the peacemaker, the intellectualizer. Classic examples. But with some traints traded: my eldest calls his younger brother, "my handsomer, smarter brother." My youngest calls his older brother "my I'm-right-and-you-know-it brother."

The kids get their marvelous insight and sensitivity from me.


flip said...

I think that only children get a bum rap. They have more in common with the oldest child. Did you know that the birth order becomes less important the farther the births are spread out. If there is three years or more between the children, they will be more like only children. Why do I know????

Birth years of my kids

I have a hard time putting them into the birth order characteristics.

Liza said...

I'm the middle child and I am totally the mediator of my family. I'm the go-between for my siblings since they are 7 years apart in age. I'm lucky enough to be close to both of them. I'm the middle child with an older sister and younger brother, so I tried to follow her around and I took care of him.