Is our personality influenced by our birth order? What factors play into that effect? We all have different personalities, but what causes these differences? Though there are a multitude of answers to this question, a simple answer is birth order. Birth order is a concept that affects everyone. Whether one is an only child, the oldest or youngest, or possibly the middle child, birth order has an immediate effect on personality. Birth order’s effect on personality is explainable by family environmental factors. Such factors include how parents themselves were raised, what stage children are going through, how older siblings treat younger siblings, parent interaction, and how parents compare siblings. Despite these clear, convincing factors, some believe birth order alone is the only explainable factor of personality. Few believe there is no need for sibling comparison and parents to explain personality. Contrary to those beliefs, family environmental factors have been proven to affect personality and will be further explained.
Birth order has been used for hundreds of years to explain personality. Many researchers look to family environmental factors such as parent interaction with the children, the way one sibling treats another, and many other factors. Research has found that it is appropriate to include family systems relative to basic childhood development issues (Eckstein and Kaufman 60). Though this statement alone is true, depending where one is in the birth order in the family, plus the family environment one grows up in, is what shapes one’s personality. These two factors have an effect on one another, and the combination of the two is the explanation for personality.
The effect a parent has when raising a child is a major influence on a child’s personality. When researchers analyze the effect birth order has on personality, they look for how big of an investment the parents made in their children’s lives (Dunkel, Harbke, and Papini 159). The way a parent invests into his child is the result of how his or her parent’s invested into them. For example, parents may remember what their own parents wanted of them and that will affect how a parent raises children (Toman 116). Taking the example further, if a first-born child was treated a certain way when he or she was growing up, this parent may treat first born children in the same manner. Or, as a negative reaction to how a parent was raised, he or she may act in the opposite fashion towards his or her children in regards to birth order. Because of the investment parents make in their children’s lives, it has an effect on the child’s personality.
Dunkel, Harbke, and Papini of Western Illinois University found that parents invest differently into their children depending on the current stage their children are in. If this happens to mean that one child receives less attention due to a stage they may be going through, then one can see how birth order is affecting parenting style at that juncture in the life of a family (160). For instance, if a first-born is being given less attention and more independence, he or she may try to win attention from his parents by identifying with them. This causes firstborn children to be more conscientious and extroverted compared to a later-born who is more rebellious and easy going (Pollet, Dijkstra, Barelds, and Buunk 742). To conclude, the different stage a child in plays in the effect a parent invests into the child.
While critics believe birth order alone has an effect on one’s personality, the factors of parenting and sibling comparison have a stronger effect in the explanation of one’s personality. Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist, suggested that birth order leaves an impressionable mark on one’s life (Eckstein and Kaufman 60). For example, this affects the way one would deal with friendship, love, or work. Despite the 2,000 studies done, critics argue the results have been faulted and inadequately controlled by social class, sibship [family] size, and other background influences that lead to false conclusions (Hauser and Sewell191). This leaves no solid evidence supporting the topic that birth order alone affects personality. Additionally, Alder’s theory is from the early 1900’s, and many factors have changed, thus shaping a new society we live in today. Because the results found are unreliable and behind the times, one cannot believe the idea that birth order alone affects one’s personality. This leads one to align with the notion parenting and sibling comparison have a stronger effect on one’s personality.
To continue the beliefs of critics, when explaining the effect birth order has on personality, it is imperative to understand the effects sibling comparison and parenting styles have in the effect. When one describes a later born’s personality, he or she cannot help but base it off of their family environment, like siblings and parents. For example, Sulloway found that later-borns look for an unoccupied family niche, and talents not already discovered by the older siblings. The later-borns find these talents through experimentation, thus causing them to be more exploratory and open to experience (Pollet, Dijkstra, Barelds, and Buunk 742). This shows that the shaping of one’s personality can only be done from family interactions, such as finding one’s niche different from his or her siblings. As Sulloway found in the article by Paulhus, Trapnell, and Chen, “birth order effects drive from a competition among siblings as they fight for their family niche” (482). This competition is based off the desire of the child’s parent interaction. Depending on what one’s birth order is, it affects the family niche that the child is going to fill. Older children for example fill the role of “parent’s little helper” and the responsible one. The younger children struggle to find their own unique niche in the family, causing the children to be rebellious and more open to experimentation. Because of the prevalent competition among siblings striving for parent’s affection and filling a role in the family, one’s personality can only be explained from these family environmental factors.
It is important when analyzing the effects of birth order on personality to understand the strong impact one sibling can make in how he or she treats his or her other sibling. Hauser and Sewell, authors of a well-renowned journal, found that in large families, older siblings will make sacrifices and take on responsibilities for the younger siblings to compensate for the limited resources provided (5). Because of the care that is performed by the older siblings, it shapes these children into becoming responsible, intuitive, and devoted adults. The younger siblings are demonstrated how to love and care for others, influencing later born children to becoming compassionate and agreeable adults. A second concept of sibling interaction is the appearance of bullying between older and younger siblings and is a reality that many families face. This form of mistreatment plays an equal effect into a later born child’s personality and may affect the way one may view him self. Healy and Ellis, both professors of Psychology at Universities in Arizona and New Zealand, found bullying from older siblings to cause later born children to empathize with the less fortunate, resist authority, and be “rebels” in the family (55). Later born children already struggle to find their own personal niche in the family that is not already occupied by another sibling. When bullying is added to this situation, it fuels the rebellious behavior of a later born and his resist to authority. There are many variations of circumstances within family environmental factors that can affect children’s personalities. The care older siblings perform of their younger siblings and also bullying that may take place, are two factors that strongly affect one’s personality.
In addition to the way a sibling treats another sibling, the way a parent treats his offspring has a an equal affect on the child’s personality. For example, Eckstein and Kaufman stated that a parent might introduce his children as “my eldest son” or “my youngest daughter” (61). Even at age 78, some siblings are forever labeled as “the baby of the family.” This labeling deprives one of his individuality and unique self. And how discouraging can it be when one hears “why don’t you act more like your older sister?” Forever, people are labeled by their birth order that their parents constantly place on them. Parents have the opportunity to instill confidence and individualization into their children by treating them as separate, individual persons. In addition, parents can familiarize and relate to their children in accordance to their own birth order. For example, parents that are both older siblings in their own families can easily relate to their eldest child’s concerns and frustrations (Toman 215). This creates a strong, understanding relationship that is beneficial to both the child and parents. Parents are in the position to shape their children to become wholesome and self-assured members of society. They have the opportunity to handle their children as individual people and also use their own birth order to relate to their child’s needs. Because parents have one of the largest roles in a child’s life, they are a key part in the many family environmental factors that shape one’s personality.
Comparing sibling to sibling is one of the most straightforward ways to see the different effects birth order has on personality. These differences are clearly noticeable when comparing firstborn children to later born. Frank Sulloway, a Psychology professor at the University of California, is one of the many psychologists to research this comparision. Firstborn children are found to be more assertive and dominant because of their determination to preserve the specific niche they created when they were the only child (Healey and Ellis 50). They were once only children and strive to achieve the same family role they acquired when they were the only children. Older siblings also serve as models and teachers to their younger brothers and sisters, shaping the older children into becoming dependable, mature adults. Firstborn children are in a position of power to direct and control their younger siblings. This can be either positive or negative for both the firstborn and later born. The firstborn will learn early to be comfortable in a role with responsibility and how to lead in a way that is well respected. Later born children benefit by interacting with older, more developed people. This has been proven to promote the development of their social-cognitive skills (Delroy, Trapnell, and Chan 64). Meanwhile, the later born children are trying to find their own source of power in the family and sort of “de-identify” themselves from their other siblings (Toman 62). The goal of this behavior is to receive individualized attention and love from their parents. The main idea of the behavior of the firstborn and later born is to first find his or her own unique niche in the family, then fill that role and perform it in a way that benefits himself and his family. Overall, the concept of sibling comparison is a clear approach to understand the effects of birth order on personality and how it produces a difference in personalities.
We all have different personalities, but what causes that difference? By looking at the family environmental factors such as how parents themselves were raised, what stage children are going through, how older siblings treat younger siblings, parent interaction, and how parents compare siblings, it is clear that these factors shape a child’s personality. There may be arguments stating that birth order alone is used to explain personality, but that is proven not to be the case. The concept of family environmental factors and birth order explaining personality has been used to explain personality for hundreds of years. In conclusion, because of family environmental factors, birth order is used to explain one’s personality.
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