22 Stereotypes About Birth Order That Are Totally True

By Sarah Crow, Best Life

It doesn't matter if you're the firstborn, a middle child, the baby of the family, or an only child—odds are you've heard every stereotype in the book about what your birth order means in terms of your personality. And while we can easily write off assumptions about firstborns being rude and bossy or tales of only children who can't share, there is credence to some of the birth order stereotypes you've heard.

"When it comes to birth order, there can be some differences between the children based on their position in the family," says Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D, LMHC. Though not every assumption is true, we've rounded up a number of stereotypes about birth order that are all-too-accurate.

1. Firstborns are approval-seekers.

Firstborns tend to seek approval more than their younger siblings. With only their parents to please for a period of their life, and an assumed leadership position later on, firstborns are often eager to be told they’re doing a good job.

Besides, they have few peer examples to follow. “They are kind of like a mini-grown up when there are no siblings to make up their peer group,” says therapist Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, co-founder of the Wright Wellness Center. “Firstborns tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves, craving approval from their parents.”

2. Middle children have a hard time finding their place.

Neither the family leader nor the baby, middle children do often test out a wide variety of identities before settling on one that fits. While it may stem from their older and younger siblings getting pigeonholed by parents or a desire to get some extra attention, middle children often seem like a different person on a weekly basis.

“They seek to find interests that don’t already belong to other family members making them feel foreign to their parents and themselves isolated and secretive,” explains therapist Carrie Krawiec, LMFT. 

3. Youngest children are more playful.

With plenty of parental attention but fewer rules to abide by than their older siblings, younger children tend to be more playful. According to a study conducted by YouGov, the youngest children in families tend to be more easygoing and relaxed, according to both themselves and their older siblings.

4. Only children are less active.

While only children tend to bear the brunt of our assumptions about family structures, there is some truth to a few of the rumors about them.

For example, with no siblings to play with, only children tend to be sedentary. In fact, one study published in Nutrition and Diabetes found that only children tend to play outside less frequently and are more likely to have televisions in their rooms compared to children with siblings.

5. First children are born leaders.

If you need a leader, look no further than your firstborn. Thanks to their inherent position as a role model for their younger siblings, firstborns tend to take on leadership qualities at an early age.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by membership-based CEO organization Vistage, firstborns are more likely to become CEOs than their younger siblings. 

6. Middle children seek attention.

While it’s not always true that middle children act out, they do tend to seek more attention than their older or younger siblings—and with good reason. Middle children are eager to entertain, impress, or just generally direct the spotlight toward them whenever possible, knowing that it’s not often shining in their direction at home.

“The second-born child may try to find their own spotlight,” says Kulaga. “If the firstborn is this responsible overachiever, the second born must find their spotlight, too. This is where you might see the second child rebelling or being very competitive.”

7. Youngest children are more confident.

While the eldest in the family may have had parents who were worried about every bump, bruise, and B earned in school, by the time they have a few more children, they’re not quite so freaked out by every minor thing.

As a result, youngest children often enjoy more independence than their older siblings—and the confidence that comes along with it. 

8. Only children are shy.

Since only children get so used to playing alone, they often are slightly more reticent to approach a potential playmate at the park than someone living in a house full of other children might be.

9. First children are particularly anxious.

First-time parents are often worriers, and with good reason: Their oldest child is their only child for a period of time, and they tend to express more anxiety over their sole child’s well-being than parents with larger broods. As such, first children often absorb some of their parents’ anxiety, becoming worried about the same things their parents express concern over.

“Parents are more anxious when rearing their first child,” says Krawiec. “Parents feel pressure to meet demands of developmental milestones and transfer that anxiety to their kids. First-time parents are anxious about safety because everything as it relates to this baby feels fragile.”

10. Middle children are neglected.

Unfortunately, middle children do tend to get less attention from their parents than their older or younger siblings. Older children usually need more parental guidance, thanks to their more complicated social lives and never-ending school and extracurricular work. And younger children need to be monitored constantly for safety reasons. That means middle children inevitably get the short end of the stick in terms of their parents’ attention.

“Middle children are expected to not be a baby anymore once a new baby comes along, yet they don’t get attention for achievement nor attention for being youthful,” says Krawiec. “So often they feel like they have no place in the family.”

11. Youngest children are coddled.

No matter how old they get, many parents will always see their youngest as a baby. And as their last opportunity to raise a child, many treat their youngest with kid gloves, often allowing them benefits. For example, they’ll be allowed to live at home longer, or will receive help with bills through their twenties.

“Parents of younger siblings recognize how quick these baby phases pass and may regret rushing their older kids through milestones,” says Krawiec. “They may compensate by keeping their youngest in phases longer like nursing, co-sleeping, etc.”

12. Only children have trouble relating to their peers.

Though the idea that only children are necessarily friendless is certainly inaccurate, there is a grain of truth behind the idea that they have a tougher time relating to their peer group. With no peers at home to get to test their social skills on, only children sometimes have more difficulty figuring out how to navigate social interactions.

13. Firstborns are controlling.

Firstborns often find that their status as the main object of their parents’ affection is significantly altered by the presence of one or many siblings. This often leads to firstborns trying to regain some control, or being particularly rule-abiding. Apparently, plenty of firstborns know this about themselves, as well: According to YouGov’s data, firstborns consider themselves more responsible and more organized than their siblings.

“Firstborn children have only their parents to look up to, whereas kids who are born second, third, fourth, etc., look up to other children (their siblings) for social cues and how to be,” says Wright. “It puts the firstborn child in a natural position of leadership over the siblings, which can create a perception of control. That perception can continue into adulthood, creating a controlling adult.”

14. Middle children are needy.

Since middle children are often shorted when it comes to parental attention, they often seek more time and resources from their parents than their older siblings. Their behavior can occasionally come across as a little needy, but it does stem from a place of actual need.

15. Youngest children are irresponsible.

As the pressure put upon kids tends to wane with each subsequent child, younger children often play fast and loose with the rules. This means they tend to be less straight-laced than their older siblings, toeing the line when it comes to acceptable behavior.

“Parents of more than one child have more confidence and less anxiety about health and safety and thus don’t hover over these kids quite as much,” says Krawiec. “There is more space to mess up—or, at the very, least take risks.”

16. Only children are loners.

Only children learn how to keep themselves occupied from a young age, so they’re often content to play by themselves when they get older, too. And while this doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have a circle of friends to call on, they’re less likely to seek constant company than those who grew up in homes with siblings.

17. Firstborns are high achievers.

If you think that it’s a myth that the eldest in families tend to be high achievers, think again. Many famous people—from BeyoncĂ© to Emma Watson to Taylor Swift—are the firstborn in their families. Having the benefit of being the sole object of their parents’ attention for a number of years often means these folks set high standards for themselves, with only adult role models to base their own behavior on.

“Until another child is born, only adults are present, and they grow to respect authority and seek approval through perfectionism of those they see above them,” says Krawiec. “Firstborns get to see parents and grandparents beam with pride for every first-time achievement, fueling the need for these kids to get their worth from achievement.

18. Middle children are more emotional.

The lack of parent support that middle children often feel can lead to them being more emotionally expressive than their younger or older siblings. In an effort to regain some status with their parents, middle children often display a degree of emotional response that might seem foreign to the siblings on either side of them.

19. Youngest children are charming.

All that attention lavished upon the baby of the family often means that they continue to seek out that same attention when they’re older. However, unlike middle children, many youngest siblings do so by learning how to turn on the charm.

In fact, the results of YouGov’s survey revealed that youngest children were considered particularly funny by both themselves and their siblings.

20. Only children are mature beyond their years.

With their parents rather than siblings serving as their primary role models, only children tend to have an air of maturity.

“Only children are like older siblings in many ways—particularly when it comes to their maturity. Super responsible, perfectionistic, and also have difficulty handling criticism,” says Krawiec. “This is true because they must shoulder all of their parents’ expectations—a heavy load.”

21. Middle children and youngest children are more likely to fall victim to bad behavior.

Sorry, middle children: According to a paper published in the August 2013 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the second of three children is 33 percent more likely than a firstborn to exhibit delinquent behaviors.

And unfortunately, the youngest child isn’t off the hook, either. The same data set concluded that the baby of the family has a 20 percent higher chance to exhibit these negative behaviors than their oldest sibling does.

22. Only children like peace and quiet.

The kid in a library who offers a practiced, librarian-like shush to people talking at a normal volume? Probably an only child. Never having to get used to the chaos that generally accompanies having siblings, only children tend to seek calm and quiet, even if that means isolating themselves to do so.


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