If you are lucky to have siblings you’re definitely unfortunate enough to have one you haven’t liked at some stage in the last few years. Does a person’s position among siblings have a lasting impact on their life course? This question has fascinated both the scientific community and the general public for over a hundred years. Whether you have siblings, how many you have and where you fall in the hierarchy of a family can have an important influence in the work you love, the career you pursue and how successful you are in your chosen field. Alfred Adler was the first psychologist to theorise the effects of birth order on personality development. He suggested that the order in which an individual is born (first born, middle child, third born etc.) has a great impact upon their personality. The stereotypical first born is the high achiever who may be controlling and bossy and likely to take on responsibility. They seek approval, are usually perfectionists, and tend to have more in common with other firstborns than their own siblings. The last born tends to be a charismatic wild child, the “trouble”. Youngest children are inclined to be more outgoing and charming because they need to be to get attention. They have a greater sense of independence and this is reinforced because they’re afforded more freedom and are more likely to try new things. The middle children get lost in the blur that is “middle child syndrome”. But how does do these family dynamics affect sporting performance?
An early study considering the relationship between birth order and career choice showed that first born children responded more positively to academic activities, whereas later born children had one specific occupational preference – athletics and sports (Bryant, 1987). The eldest normally regard themselves as the brightest and unfortunately their assumption is supported by research, first-borns have a higher IQ test scores than their siblings (Lehmann et al., 2018) . The best athletes are more likely to be later-born children, while the non-elite athletes were more likely to be first born children. In terms of sport, later born children are more likely to be successful…… so second is the best! (Hopwood et al., 2015). But in reality this makes complete sense because we see it all the time – younger siblings are continually competing with their older, more skilled and accomplished sisters and brothers, it produces better outcomes. If a child is continually exposed to competing against older sisters and brothers (athletes) they are continually forced to reach beyond their existing ability. Many top performers like Usain Bolt, Laura Trott, Andre Agassi, David Beckham, Chris Hoy and Andy Murray claim their early physical development may have been partly due to a desire to keep up with older sisters and brothers. So first born children are motivated to learn while younger siblings are motivated by winning (Carette et al., 2011). Your birth order may be unchallengeable, but the aptitudes and qualities it plants don’t have to be and we must always remember that we cant all win but we can all learn and isn’t that real success.
Bryant BL. (1987). Birth order as a factor in the development of vocational preferences. Individual Psychology: Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice 43, 36-41.
Carette B, Anseel F & Van Yperen NW. (2011). Born to learn or born to win? Birth order effects on achievement goals. Journal of Research in Personality 45, 500-503.
Hopwood M, Farrow D, MacMahon C & Baker J. (2015). Sibling dynamics and sport expertise, vol. 25.
Lehmann JYK, Nuevo-Chiquero A & Vidal-Fernandez M. (2018). The early origins of birth order differences in children’s outcomes and parental behavior, vol. 53.