The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Psychology of Birth Order: Unraveling the Stereotypes

Article on the page Artwork by Hannah Plummer

If you have a sibling, you have probably heard of the stereotypes surrounding birth order. Maybe as the oldest, you feel that your parents are the hardest on you, and your younger siblings can get away with everything. If you’re the youngest, maybe you have to compete for attention with your older siblings, and sometimes aren’t taken as seriously. Stereotypes like these are known as being part of Birth Order Theory, developed in the early 1900s, credited to Austrian Psychologist Alfred Adler.

It is important to note that the personality traits observed are not only part of the child from birth, but rather developed based on a number of factors, including social, cultural, situational and biological circumstances.

WHS Psychology Teacher Robert Ebert points to a possibility of confirmation bias, or “once you’re told the story, you look for all the cases that fit that.” Simply put, people see a stereotype of a typical birth order, and pick and choose personal examples that fit that particular experience.

According to Dr. Rodica Damian, psychology professor at the University of Houston, and Dr. Brent Roberts, psychology professor at the University of Illinois, “Scientific evidence strongly suggests that birth order has little or no substantive relation to personality trait development,” and that these trends are largely based upon similar experiences and environments. While this shows how Birth Order Theory is not confirmed through studies, there are certainly examples of these common stereotypes throughout families local to WHS.

The Reed family, a trio of daughters, a senior, junior and freshman in Westfield are an example of how trends can be seen throughout different families in relevance to birth order.

Makenna, the oldest, sees a trend of increased freedom among her younger sisters, Ella and Peyton, compared to what she experienced when she was at similar ages. “Sometimes people say that the oldest siblings ought to do whatever they want. But that’s definitely not true. Peyton’s definitely allowed to do more things than I was at her age,” she said.

She attributed this freedom to the fact that she had already done these things, so her parents were more aware of them and let the younger siblings explore more. “They’re not being crazy, but I feel like my parents are definitely more strict about me doing things,” Makenna said.

“She was the guinea pig,” said Peyton, the youngest of the three. This is a common trait seen with the oldest sibling. Dr. Catherine Salmon, professor of psychology at the University of Redlands, credits this stereotype to the fact that parents are learning how to do everything with the oldest child, so they tend to be more cautious and strict, and then they become more relaxed as more children are brought into the family because they have gone through it once already.

The middle sibling, Ella, pointed out another common stereotype that she sees in Makenna. “Makenna’s definitely, for our family, always trying to keep the peace,” she said. As the oldest sibling, there is an expectation of responsibility, stemming from the fact that they are the closest to their parents’ age, and they therefore assume some responsibility, such as tasks like driving, as she is the only sibling currently with a driver’s license.

A common trait of a middle child is acting differently than the oldest in order to set themselves apart. Ella attends Mount St. Mary’s Academy in Watchung, NJ, while the other Reed sisters attend WHS. “I wanted to kind of go on a different path than my sisters,” she said. Dr. Salmon also points out that the middle children “tend to stand out,” she said in an article on “They always have to share divided parental investment,” since they are always sharing with the oldest sibling from the moment they are born.

Other common traits seen in the middle child include being adaptable and social which comes from learning how to grab some of the shared attention.

Ella calls herself the most competitive of the sisters, another trait that is considered typical of a middle child. “I have very outgoing energy,” says Ella. “I’m very involved with everyone.” She also pointed out that she expresses her opinion more than Makenna does, especially in the Reed household.

WHS senior Giuliana Gallo is an only child, a title that only about 20 percent of American households with children contain, according to the Pew Research Center. But just because she doesn’t have any siblings doesn’t mean that there aren’t some observable trends with other only children.

One of these trends that Gallo saw in herself was sensitivity. “I am definitely pretty sensitive,” she said. “I never really argued with people when I was younger, since I didn’t have any siblings around to fight with.”

Birth order applies to twins, too. Alder’s theory points to the idea that a child will fill a role missing in a family dynamic, so that even though twins share genes and a birthday, they grow into different personalities.

However, Birth Order Theory is far from rigid. While there are signs of correlation in some studies, it goes back to Ebert’s idea of confirmation bias. Not every case is going to fit, and the way a child develops is based not completely on genetics, but more so influenced by environment.

Aris and Zoe Frantzeskakis are a pair of senior twins at WHS who confirm this assumption. Zoe and Aris both prefer being twins and Zoe said that “it’s always nice having a friend.”

Aris said, “We always have someone to go to if we need something and don’t have to worry about being nervous to talk to an older or younger sibling.” Although being opposite gender twins poses its own challenges, Zoe and Aris believe their roles around the house and in their family dynamic to be equal. “I do certain stuff and so does Zoe. We don’t have the chance to say ‘oh you’re older so you have to do it,’” said Aris.

Even the Reed family, who found many similarities with Alder’s theory and Dr. Salmon’s examples differed from the stereotypes in important ways. Peyton, the youngest, assumes a lot of responsibility in the Reed household.
“I feel like I do more stuff around the house since everyone else is out, like Makenna and Ella are working,” she said.

Typically, according to the theory, the oldest would be the one to assume the most responsibility, which Makenna does in part, but based on circumstance and environment, the typical role is more shared between the sisters, instead of clear cut separate traits.

No matter how many scientific studies are unveiled about the stereotypes and psychology of birth order, ultimately, the responsibilities and roles of children and siblings are fully dependent on circumstance and dynamic, which varies from family to family.

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

All Hi's Eye Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *