Facts about first borns that you may not know

19 October 2021

Facts about first borns that you may not know

  • Siblings
by Michael Grose

First borns may not always rule the world, but with families shrinking first borns are now a force to be reckoned with in sheer numbers. Parents have always known that eldest children like to rule the roost, but there’s so much more to know about first borns. Here are some evidence-backed and observational facts about first borns that shape how you parent, teach and coach this fascinating group.

First borns are ground breakers

First born children take parents into new ground at every developmental stage. The first-born child introduces parents to infancy, early childhood and every other developmental stage. They also introduce parents to pre-school, primary school secondary school and life beyond the education system.  Every subsequent child in a family should thank their eldest sibling for breaking their parents in for them.

Being born first brings privileges

First-born children are born into a privileged position. Living in the spotlight they generally get piles of attention from parents, grandparents and a host of other relatives and family friends. First-borns spend more of their early time around adults and learn more from adults than subsequent children in the family. Spending more time around parents assists their language development as the interaction during one-on-one time with a first-born lends itself to high quality language development.

Being born also brings pressures

The flipside for first-borns is that they tend to live with pressure. The expectations on firstborns to perform and live up to the family name are immense. In fact, the expectations can be so high that many first-borns, particularly boys, are afraid of making mistakes and errors of any kind.

Eldests are the family conservatives

First born children are most likely children in a family to follow the dominant employment and lifestyle path displayed by parents. If parents are from professions such as education, medicine or finances the eldest child is likely to follow the pathway of their parents.

First borns are achievement-oriented

First borns tend to drive themselves hard to achieve in whatever path they choose. This reflects their desire for parental approval, which never really disappears even in adulthood. First borns are overrepresented in many lists of leaders including US presidents and corporate business leaders. This group are typically goal-setters, list-makers and highly organised, which are all behaviours designed to achieve success.

First borns are more likely to be conscientious

Eldest children and young people score higher on conscientiousness than children in any other position in psychological testing. This trait compliments other first-born characteristics such as reliability, responsibility and dependability.

First borns are more likely to be introverts

On the extroversion-introversion scale, first borns generally score higher in introversion than any other birth order position. The early years play a significant part in shaping personality preferences. Being born last in a family usually makes time alone a rarity, while eldest children spend a great deal of time on their own well into toddlerhood and beyond.

Not all eldests take on first born traits

First born traits such as achievement-orientation, responsibility and family conservatism are sometimes seen in second born children.

First borns are more anxiety-prone

First borns may be the recipients of greater parental investment than later borns, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee them good mental health. Research conducted for the book Anxious Kids revealed that a high proportion of first borns experienced anxiety at a critical level than children in other birth order positions. This is no coincidence as first borns live with greater anxiety-inducing parental pressure than children born in other positions. However, when you add a tendency for perfectionism, and the achievement-orientation that comes with the territory, children in this birth order position need to work hard to maintain good mental health.

First borns are the rule keepers and makers

First born children value authority more than any other cohort, perhaps because they were born into a position of authority over their siblings. This group will generally keep to the rules, routines and structures of both family and school-life, which is welcomed by most parents. They also like to remind their siblings of the rules of just about everything, which can be infuriating for younger children.

In closing

Effective parents work with the differences in children rather than use a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Understanding how first borns tick helps parents and teachers adapt their approaches to suit the psychology of this fascinating group.

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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s an award-winning speaker and the author of 12 books for parents including Spoonfed Generation, and the bestselling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. Michael is a former teacher with 15 years experience, and has 30 years experience in parenting education. He also holds a Master of Educational Studies from Monash University specialising in parenting education.