Some years ago
I took part in an educational program that selected members based on
their leadership potential. One of the seminars included a
discussion of birth order and the impact it has on oneís success in
went that first born and only children are dominant and more
confident, youngest children tend to be less responsible and more
dependent, while those in the middle are apt to be, technically
impulse, I asked for a show of hands from my fellow wannabe
leaders: 19 were first born or only children, eight were middle
children, and three were the family babies. Theory proven, I
thought, if somewhat unscientifically.
according to New York University sociology professor Dalton Conley,
author of ďThe Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why,Ē set
for a March 2004 release by Pantheon Books. In an interview with
the New York Times, Conley called birth order ďnext after
astrological signs as peopleís favorite folk explanation for why
things turn out.Ē
Iím not big on
most pop psychology but birth order always made a certain amount of
sense to me. Iíve seen it at work, though as an oldest child myself
it may simply be convenient for me to accept. My sister likely has
her own theories on oldest brothers, which you will read about as
soon as she gets her own column.
inner first child got away from me. Still, Conley contends the most
important familial factors in an individualís success are family
size and the time and resources allotted to each child, not birth
order per se. As each child is added, fewer resources are available
for the others. The first child gets more attention until the
second comes along, the oldest two get more until the third arrives,
and so on.
children experience at least some time as an only child or as one of
just a few while younger kids never do. In that way, Conley argues,
birth order has an impact but only as a drain on resources.
theory is a sacred cow in some circles and wonít go away easily.
Previous studies have even purported links between birth order and
intelligence, claiming older children and those from smaller
families tend to be brighter.
Conley has the
company of Joseph Lee Rodgers, a psychologist at the
University of Oklahoma, in disputing that idea. Rodgers believes
earlier research was off base because it compared children from
different families rather than siblings in the same broods. When
you focus on differences within a single family, birth order fades
Rodgers found instead that parents with lower IQs tend
to have larger families, which may have lent to the notion that
children from large families arenít as intelligent as those from
smaller clans. This will likely offend folks with several children,
but Rodgers didnít say which came first, the litter of kids or
lowered parental IQ. Speaking for myself, Iím certain Iíve gotten
dumber with each child.
Conley concludes that too much goes into building an
individualís personality to neatly pin it to a single factor like
birth order. ďThe family is not a haven in a harsh world,Ē he
believes. ďIt is part and parcel of that world, rat race and all.
Inequality, after all, starts at home.Ē
It starts before that, as children of the same parents
are born with different gifts and abilities. As hard as one might
try it is impossible for parents to treat their children the same,
because they arenít. Depending on their individual needs, it
probably isnít even a good idea.