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Which birth order position is smartest?

14 March
Posted by:
Michael Grose

.Recently new research was released that shows one birth order position is smarter than the others

When it comes to being bright, it pays to be a first born. 

A study of 250,000 Norwegians found that those raised as a first born scored on average two percent higher on IQ tests than later born brothers and sisters. 

The unique design of the study helped resolve the nature-versus-nurture aspect of the debate. It included young people whose older siblings had died as babies. These people, raised as first borns, scored similar scores as eldest borns.

The study maintains that first borns benefit from all that extra one-on-one parental attention and the fact that they have to explain a great deal to their younger siblings. 

This supports my own findings, which I included in my book Why first Borns rule the world and last borns want to change it (available to
One-on-one attention gives first borns an edge but there are other factors that give the eldest an advantage.

Parental expectations are generally huge for first borns both behaviourally and academically. We set the bar high for the first born and then lower it for each subsequent child. 

First borns also benefit from being surrounded by a great deal of adult language in their early years, which impacts on their ability to read. The quality of language younger children are exposed to is diluted by increased exposure to the language of their siblings. Quite simply, they usually don’t receive the same type of adult-initiated stimulation that the eldest sibling received. This could account to some degree for the IQ discrepancy.

Quite frankly, I don’t think it matters.

Each position in a family has its own advantages and disadvantages, benefits and drawbacks. I wouldn’t trade the people smarts I picked up from being the youngest in my family and observing all the mistakes of my siblings for a few percentage points in IQ. No way! 

I am glad I didn’t have the pressure to do well that my eldest sibling experienced. My parents were quite relaxed by the time I came along and allowed me some latitude to develop free from excessive pressure to perform or conform.

First borns may indeed be smarter but they tend to take themselves and life too seriously. And their perfectionist tendencies can be a drawback. 

For these reasons, the key message for parents of first borns is to loosen up and don’t put too much pressure on them. Many place enough pressure on themselves to succeed, without parents adding another layer. 

First borns also crave parental approval, which can straight-jacket them into only doing activities where success (and so parental approval) is assured.

That’s why first borns need more encouragement (process-oriented feedback) than praise (result-oriented feedback). Encouragement releases the pressure on first borns to please adults.

Let’s face it, first borns maybe smarter than the rest, but they can be so darn complex too!

  • birth
  • children
  • families
  • IQ
  • order
  • siblings
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