Thursday, November 5, 2015

Does Birth Order Matter?

As educators and as parents, we often look at siblings and think we can develop rules of thumb around birth order and its impact on children and their personalities.  One of the books I have quoted many times in the past is Frank Sulloway’s Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives, which looks at scientists, their discoveries, and how they correlate with the order of birth in their families.  

As Sulloway reminds us, all parents are environmentalists (i.e., the way that children are shaped by their environment), until they have their second child.  They think that their children are solely shaped by their environment, instead of realizing that children arrive with some traits already inherent in them.  As we watch different children grow up in the same family and as their personalities emerge, though, we realize that a part of who they are may be a result of their own individual nature rather than an outgrowth of their nurturing home.

However, a recent study questions the accumulated wisdom regarding the eldest, middle, and youngest children in families.  The study, “Examining the effects of birth order on personality,” by Julia M. Rohrer, Boris Egloff, and Stefan C. Schmukle, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found no correlation between birth order and personality. While there may be some connection between IQ and the oldest child, this was only found in a very large sample and had little correlation at the level of the individual child.  

Perhaps the most important benefit of this study is to prevent us from stereotyping children according to their family birth order and to avoid a rush to judgment or an explanation on why a child is acting the way she is at the moment based solely on whether she’s the oldest, middle, or youngest child in the family.  One of the elements of Bosque I appreciate is the opportunity for every child to be an individual and to be recognized for the person s/he is rather than being seen as someone’s little brother or big sister.  I am continually amazed at the differences among siblings, and I find it fascinating and affirming to work with and teach children from the same family who have such unique personalities.  

A friend once explained to me that for parents who have more than one child, it’s not that they have a second and third child; it’s that they have their “first” again and again.  What do you think? Writer Nicholas Bakalar describes his thoughts in The New York Times article, “Don’t Blame It on Birth Order.”