Effects of Birth Order on Personality

Posted: December 01, 2016


A lot of studies have been conducted to determine the effects of birth order on human personality development.  Some psychologists and such Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud among others concluded that the difference in personality in children of the same parents can be well explained by their difference in birth orders (Hoffmann, 2004). Other scholars disagree with the fact that birth order does play any important role in shaping the human personality. However, scholars such as Adler lacks scientific verification that indeed birth order does influence or play a role in determining the personality of a person. This area of study has attracted researchers to do more studies to determine the evidence of this thesis (Whitbourne, 2013).  Through several research studies, it has been determined that there is no convincing evidence that birth order affects someone’s personality or behavior. Alfred Adler and Freud used their general understanding of human psychology to arrive into that conclusion (Hoffmann, 2004). After reading a lot of scholarly materials on the effect of birth order on human personality, it has come clearly that clearly that birth order has nothing to do with variation in personality between individuals born to the same mother and father. However, a more some studies are still underway to clear the matter.


Birth orders to the position or the order a kid is born. That is, first born, second born, third born, etc. for a long time, birth order has been believed to have profound effects on the psychological development of a person. However, as aforementioned, this assertion has been challenged by steam of scientific based researches.  A majority of researches have confirmed that there is near zero or completely zero relationship between birth order and the psychological development of a person. Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung were among the famous theorist to have suggested the idea of birth order in influencing the human personality (Hoffmann, 2004). According to Adler, birth order can determine the choice and style of life of an individual. Adler notes that since first born kids are dethroned immediately after the inception of the second born, it may have lasting effects on their personality. Younger children are pampered so much by their parents and that behaviors or upbringing affect their later personalities. Since the time of Alder up to date, the influence of birth order in personality development have become and remained a controversial topic in the field of psychology (Whitbourne, 2013).  A majority of people in the society do believe the theory of Alfred but the ideas is highly disputed by the modern psychologist who tested have tested the theory scientifically.


Claims about the effects the birth order of person has on the development of their personalities have received a lot of attention in the field of scientific research.  The largest and the best designed research bodies have confirmed that there exist near zero or completely zero relationship between the two elements (Harris, 2006). However, what makes those researches and findings to stand as point of controversy is the ability to control variables that are statistically related to the birth order. For example, the size of the family and some social demographic variables that are associated with birth order can serve as potential points of weakness in most of these studies. For instance, in most cases, large families are associated with low socioeconomic positions and statuses. Therefore, according to Adler, a third-born child in such as a family is more likely to differ in character with the last born and the first born in the same family (Hoffmann, 2004).

Ernst and Angst did a study to confirm the thesis by Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler and other psychologist was indeed a waste of time (Ernst & Angst, 1983). They conducted a study that sort to analyze all the works related to birth orders that were done and published between 1946 and 1980. Additionally, the two scholars did their own study to confirm or disagree with the theory.  Like in other scientifically published researches, they also found that there was no correlation between birth order and the personality development. They collected about 6315 men from Switzerland (Ernst & Angst, 1983).  After the analysis of their study, they concluded that the idea of birth order was indeed a waste of time. Another recent research was done to analyze the same topic. The study involved over 9 thousand subjects. The study sort to study the five personality traits: agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness. The result of this study contradicted with Sulloway predictions (Sulloway, 2001). The study also confirmed that there is no significance relationship between birth order and the personality development of a person (Whitbourne 2013).

However, some studies have been found to support the claim of Adler and Sulloway. For instance, in their study, Paulhus and colleagues reported that there was an observable difference in some behaviors based on birth order (Paulhus, Trapnell & Chen 1998). Based on their study, they reported that the first born children scored much higher on conscientiousness, achievement orientations, and conservatism.  The later born scored highly on openness, rebelliousness, and agreeableness. This study is only possible when done within families. However, these findings are weak when the same is done by comparing individuals from different family settings.  According to a psychologist Judith Rich Harris (2006), birth order may exist in the context of the family but they do not have profound effects on personality development to the different members of the family (Harris, 2006). Harris argues that the difference in personality of the people of the family is because every person leaves and leads a different life independent of family influence. She argues that birth order effects manifest later in life because people look for them as they analyze and reanalyze their situations relating them to their birth orders (Harris, 2006).  Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) has disputed the claim that first born children score high on IQ test. The survey showed no significance relationship between academic performance and intelligence with birth orders.  The data and findings from the National Child Development study based in the United Kingdom disputed and failed to support the thesis.


The thesis that birth order affects the personality development of a person lacks substantial proofs to be accepted.  Several studies and researches have been done by scholars and renowned research institutions and have determined that the there is no significance relationship between birth order and personality of a person.  The birth order theory was put forward by renowned psychologist such as Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud, Sulloway and Carl Jung. They supported and argued for it. Other scholars such a Judith Rich Harris, Ernst and Angst, and other research based institution such as the Research Development Theory, NLSY, and National Child Development Study have refuted and disputed the claim (Whitbourne, 2013).

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