The First Born

Unlocking Your Personality – What Birth Order Says About You
Written by: Nicole Teague
CIGNA Behavioral Health

Have you ever wondered why you are the way you are? What is it that makes you…you? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this question. However, many things are said to have an effect on personality –genes, parents, location, friends, and the list goes on. Another factor that is said to have an influence on personality is birth order. In other words, your position in your family – for example, whether you are a middle child or the only child – has an effect on the kind of person that you become.

We’ve all heard about someone acting like “the baby of the family” or like “an only child”. But where does this idea come from? Much research has been done over the years on birth order, and as a result, certain characteristics have been identified based on your position in your family.

How do you fit in?
Below are some of the typical characteristics of the major birth order positions. Which characteristics do you identify with? How accurately do the characteristics of your birth order position describe you? What about the people you know?

(Information obtained from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 2005.)

First-Born Children
First-born children are often looked up to by others, and as a result, automatically take on a role of leadership. However, along with this leadership comes the pressure to succeed. Parents are often the most strict with first-born children, and expect them to "set an example" for younger siblings.

First-born children tend to...

* Be perfectionists
* Enjoy making other people happy
* Be highly motivated to achieve success
* Take on a leadership role
* Be responsible
* Feel jealous or neglected when younger siblings arrive as a result of no longer being the center of attention

Middle-Born Children
Middle-born children often tend to feel left out, as if they don’t have a “place” in the family. However, being “stuck in the middle” often results in these individuals being skilled at compromising and getting along with others.

Middle born children tend to...

* Be more rebellious than their siblings
* Adapt easily to any situation
* Play the role of mediator, and prefer compromise to conflict
* Develop skills or talents not shared by siblings- for example, if an older sibling is a star athlete, a middle born child may focus on music for their talent
* Be the most varied of all of the birth positions – for example, he or she may be friendly and outgoing, or shy and quiet

Last-Born Children
Last-born children are often known as the “baby” of the family. Because they are used to having other people do things for them, they often have difficulty with making decisions and taking responsibility.

Last-born children tend to...

* Be outgoing
* Have the ability to “charm” others
* Feel inferior to siblings
* Be considered spoiled, demanding, or impatient
* Develop abilities that older siblings don’t have (see Middle-born children)
* Remain “The Baby” of the family- by expecting others to do things for them, make decisions, and take responsibility

Only Children
Only children tend to have a lot of the same characteristics as first-born children. As a result of gaining undivided attention from parents, only children are often considered to be self-centered. Because they never had to learn to share or overcome conflicts with brothers or sisters, they are often described as selfish and not easily forgiving of themselves or others.

Only children tend to...

* Be well-organized, or perfectionists
* Be comfortable with responsibility
* Not take criticism well
* Be comfortable with being the center of attention
* Be responsible

Not so fast...
Predicting personality based on birth order is not as simple as one may think. There are many exceptions that can have an effect on how much birth order plays a role in determining personality. Some of these factors are listed below:

* Gender
* Blended families
* Adoption
* Multiples (for example, twins or triplets)
* How many children are in the family
* Spacing of children (for example, whether 1 year or 9 years separate siblings)

To understand how these factors can impact the characteristics of birth order, consider the following example: if a child is born 15 years after their sibling, he or she may identify with more of the characteristics of a first-born child because they did not encounter the same situations that someone with a sibling only 2 years older than them would have experienced.

When considering how birth order affects personality, it is important to remember that every person may not be able to easily “fit” into a particular category. Parents can help to prevent their children from being “stereotyped” by attempting to view them as unique individuals and avoiding comparing them with their siblings.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension. (2005). Birth Order Helps Make Us Unique.