Family matters – Does being the oldest, middle or youngest child affect your personality? Get the real deal on birth order
By Raizel Robin
If you’re the first-born in the family, ever notice how you just can’t help but offer helpful, if unsolicited, advice to your younger sibs? If you’re a middle child, in between taking orders from your bossy older sis, do you always find yourself settling family arguments? And we all know what the youngest spends her time doing: goofing off and causing trouble. It’s just common sense: the oldest child is responsible, the middle child is diplomatic, the baby of the family is the rebel – and the only child is spoiled for life. But is there any truth to these stereotypes? Does birth order really affect your personality?
The short answer is, sort of. “Birth order doesn’t determine personality,” says Nina Howe, professor of early childhood and elementary education at Concordia University in Montreal. Personality is the result of a number of factors. Genetics, education, social and economic environment, and any number of life experiences all play a part in shaping who you are. In fact, Judith Rich Harris, a developmental psychologist based in New Jersey who published The Nurture Assumption in 1998, is one of many psychologists who don’t buy the birth-order theory. Harris says our personalities are formed by a lot more than our family influences, including birth order. That’s because children – especially teens – try to behave more like their peers than their families.
So why do people think birth order has an effect? “Psychologists all agree that personality has something to do with what went on when you were a child,” says Del Paulhus, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. And everyone has a family. One theory is that children seek to find their own niche in the clan. So siblings will work to differentiate themselves from each other, possibly falling into typical birth-order positions. Keep reading to see how your personality traits compare to those associated with particular birth-order positions.
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