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The Social Birth Order Theory

The Social Birth Order Theory In the world of psychology, nature versus nurture is a common theme theorists attribute to differences in the personalities of children. However, there may be other influences that have greater impact early in life. When it comes to the disposition of a person, the order in which they were born within a family leaves an ineffaceable effect. A child’s inclination toward certain personality traits can be the result of their inherent position within their family. Many famous psychologists theorize about and study the effects of family birth order among siblings.

The most renowned psychologist in the world, Sigmund Freud, broke away from a group of his original psychoanalysts due to a dispute about birth order (Webspace). The leader of those contradicting him was a Austrian Medical Doctor named Alfred Adler who lived from 1870 through 1937.. Adler’s studies on birth order are what he is best known for (Webspace). Adler had a social standpoint on the birth order theory and many other theorists disputed his view with biological standpoints of their own (Bnet). The main difference between Adler and other psychologists was that he believed his theories were “heuristic” (Webspace).

He knew that they were helpful in understanding people, but not scientific actualities (Webspace). He was more open minded compared to Freud and recognized the impact of internal as well as external factors in each patient’s life. He knew that how a person perceived their own position in their family was just as influential as their actual birth order (Stein). Adler was the first theorist to credit a patient’s brothers and sisters for having an influence on their early life and development (Webspace). The positions within the sibling group were categorized into only, first, second, middle, and youngest children.

Each associated character trait appears in the child only if they view themselves as having that position in the family. For example, a second child may act as an oldest child if their older sibling has been away at college and is no longer living in the house. Adler recognized that each position created different environments and expectations for each child. Only child are socially dominant. These children are used to being the center of attention and strive to make others focus primarily on them (Stein).

Children growing up without any siblings seem to mature relatively faster, and relate better to adults (Webspace). The lack of constant companionship can also lead them to be introverted and many prefer to deal with issues by themselves (Stein). When channeled into self-confidence, this introverted tendency can create independent leaders who know how to be successful on their own without guidance from others. Children who have already developed their personality before their siblings are born can exhibit similar traits. When single children do not get their own way they feel unfairly treated (CDI).

When interacting in environments outside their immediate family, they have problems sharing with others and can become spoiled (Webspace). Studies show that only children have the most problems with close relationships and the lowest need for affiliation (Bnet). Slightly similar to only children, those born first in the family can become authoritarian. If they accept their role as responsible for younger siblings, they often become good leaders (Webspace). They also often score the highest on intelligence tests, and many are precocious (Webspace).

The number of first-born National Merit Scholarship winners was found to equal the number of second- and third-born winners combined (BNet). Studies have consistently linked first-born children and academic success (BNet). Additionally, first born children are overrepresented in Congress and among U. S. Presidents (BNet). Humphrey Bogart, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis were all first born in their families (Webspace). Contrary to the success they seem to achieve, Adler believes that first born children are the most likely to become problem children (Webspace).

They mature as only children, pampered and the center of attention, until their siblings are born and they are “dethroned” (Allpsych). First-born children, when compared to their siblings, tend to have a greater chance of developing feelings of inferiority as their focal position in the family structure is altered by the birth of a sibling (Bnet). They often are especially vulnerable to stress, and have a strong desire to gain attention and seek the approval of others (Allpysch). Unlike the independent leaders only children become, oldest children can be left feeling cheated and unsuccessful.

Adler himself was a middle child of three. His categories of second born and middle children of large families are almost identical. The second born child can be epitomized by a dream in which the child is constantly running but going nowhere (Webspace). They are constantly overshadowed by their older siblings. However, they do tend to have stronger social skills (Bnet). Second and middle children become very spontaneous and adaptable from constantly dealing with both older and younger siblings. Having children both older and younger in the family seems to leave a positive influence on middle children.

While the oldest and youngest may team up together, the second becomes the mediator between the two. This obviously leaves a lasting effect on their personality as second born children are often predominant in fighting injustice later in life (Stein). Second-born children strive to succeed with abilities not found in their older siblings. The desire to master abilities not present in their older sibling is a huge motivator. Second -born children are often key players in team sports (Bnet). In general, second-born children are trusting and not self-centered.

They are also most likely to successfully maintain relationships (BNet). They are the most well-rounded as they have the luxury of being able to strive to compete with the oldest child, while still knowing they hold that power over their younger siblings (Allpsych). Adler believed that being the second born child was the most advantageous position in the family. Youngest children are next in line to oldest as most likely to become problem children. Youngest children are the ones who grow up knowing they have the least amount of power in the family.

One study found last-borns more likely than first-borns or only children to join a fraternity or sorority (Bnet). This is most likely because they spend their entire lives surrounded by older companions. Additionally, younger children have tendencies to conjure big plans that never seem to work out (Stein). Of all the positions of birth, youngest children exhibit the strongest senses of security. They are generally not as competitive as their older siblings as they view their brothers and sisters as role models instead of peers (Bnet). When they choose to, they are often good at following directions.

They prefer to have set goals to accomplish as their older siblings have paved the way for them throughout childhood. Younger children are commonly associated with negative traits as well. The epitome of “short-man syndrome,” the youngest child may become bossy and direct others, to compensate for their feelings of inferiority in the family (CDI). Some children have difficulties with independency and rely on their parents throughout life. Many families with multiple children often have the first and last child ally and gang up on the middle children. (CDI).

Sydney Poiter, Charlie Chapman and Bob Hope were all later borns. Adler’s five different birth order characteristics are widely accepted today. Many others have expanded upon and contradicted against selections of his birth order theory. One of these theorists is Frank Sulloway, PH. D. , who is a visiting Scholar in the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California, Berkley.. Sulloway attended Harvard, teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is an expert on Darwin’s evolutionary theories and Freud as a biologist of the mind (Binghamton).

After many years of studying the personalities of children, he analyzed his findings based on his studies of Darwin (Binghamton). Frank J. Sulloway’s most important finding is that oldest children identify with parents and authority, and support the status quo. He found younger children to tend to rebel against it (Binghamton). Sulloway’s conclusions differ slightly from Adler’s theories (Evolution). Adler reasoned that social interaction within the family creates the variation within siblings. He was the first to theorize that each position elicits different traits (Evolution).

Sulloway theorized that siblings engage in “survival of the fittest” just like animals. Instead of showing human variations in their personalities, sibling act like sand sharks who eat each other to gain their parent’s attention. The survivor becomes “the fittest” (Evolution). In the case of humans, the “fittest” would be the sibling that demands and receives the most of their parents’ approval and attention (Evolution). Adler’s social birth order theory differs from Sulloways in both biological versus social perspectives and also what first born’s traits elicit (Evolution).

Sulloway believed humans outshine their siblings instead of eating them. Survival of the fittest dictates which child will have which personality (Evolution). According to Sulloway, first-borns have a head start and usually become self-righteous and authoritative to avoid sharing attention with their younger siblings (Evolution). Both theorists center around the same concept – birth order affecting the tendencies and personalities of children. Many psychologists spend their entire careers studying the influences behind each individual’s personalities.

Over the decades many theories have developed as to why certain people have certain character traits. Adler was the first to research the effects of birth order on personalities. Several other experts have expanded upon his studies. All evidence points to the conclusion that the order in which a person was born can leave an ineffaceable effect on his or her personality. Works Cited Birth Order. Child Development Institute. 13 Jun 2008 <


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