When it comes to siblings, you can usually tell who is who. The oldest will often take the lead and usually boss the other siblings around. The middle child usually acts as the peacekeeper and the mediator of the family. The baby of the family is usually the free spirit and the risk-taker of the bunch.
New research suggests that second-born children may stand out for some negative reasons as well. A recent study shows that second born children tend to be the biggest trouble makers of the bunch. A report from Joseph Doyle, an MIT economist, finds that second-borns (particularly boys) are more likely to cause mischief and be rebellious.
Well, not exactly. It may also have a little something to do with how much attention they get from their parents.
"Both the parental investments are different, and the sibling influences probably contribute to these differences we see in the labor market and what we find in delinquency. It's just very difficult to separate those two things because they happen at the same time."
Doyle and his colleagues studied thousands of sets of brothers in the both the United States and Europe. In their research, they found that first borns would get their parents undivided attention. Children who were born after them however, would have to fight to get that attention.
Even when they got the attention they were looking for, they still had to share it with their older sibling.
The study found that 25 to 40 percent of second siblings were more likely to get in trouble, whether it was trouble at school or with the law.
"I find the results to be remarkable that the second-born children, compared to their older siblings, are much more likely to end up in prison, much more likely to get suspended in school, enter juvenile delinquency," Doyle told NPR.
Many have studied birth order and it is clear that birth order does play a role in child development. Dr. Kevin Leman is the author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. He confirms that middle children tend to be rebellious and the last born tend to be more manipulative.
But just because you were born first does not mean you will live a bossy and controlling life. Just because you were born second does not mean you are doomed to end up in jail. There are many people who don’t feel like they fit in with their birth order stereotype.
The White-Campbell Psychological Birth Order Inventory (or PBOI) is a test developed to measure whether people are a “fit” for their rank. When tested, only 23 percent of women and 15 percent of men feel that they are a true match. There are many more things that affect our personality other than our order of birth.
Do you know what affects your personality more than your order of birth? Your genetics. About half of your personality depends on the temperament that you are born with. So your birth order is only one piece of the giant puzzle. “If the firstborn can’t excel at what the family values, for example, that position could shift to another child," says Catherine Salmon, Ph.D., a coauthor of The Secret Power of Middle Children.
“Gender is a significant influence when it comes to the birth role that one develops within the family,” says Alan E. Stewart, Ph.D., who researches birth order at the University of Georgia.
Think about it. If the firstborn is a boy and he excels at everything he does, when another child, a little girl, comes along, she is going to compete with him much less than if their second child was a boy. The boy and the girl are already fundamentally different in so many ways so there won’t be as much rivalry and competition between the two of them.
Age and size usually go hand in hand. Older kids are usually able to boss younger siblings around because of their age and size. But what happens if the second child is much bigger than the firstborn? The power dynamic flips and the siblings often switch roles and personality traits. The space between ages can affect personalities as well. “The closer the age intervals are between siblings, the more competition there is,” says Stewart. When kids of the same gender are only one to two years apart, there will be more conflict. Three to four years apart tends to be the sweet spot. This way the kids are close in age, but also have room to be themselves.
While all children are special, one child may have a special skill that makes them a prodigy. This special skill can buy them more attention from the family and they can get prime treatment and will be treated like a firstborn no matter what the birth order is. Other circumstances can alter families, too, like a child with a disability who needs more treatment and attention.
So, just because you were born second, doesn’t mean you are fated to end up a troublemaker. There are many factors can influence behavior and make us who we are today. But feel free to use it as an excuse if you want to be a rebel!