Mental Health Blog

Does Birth Order Really Make a Difference?

Posted by Makenna Clements on


According to the work of psychologist and theorist Alfred Adler, there is an identifiable connection between our position in the family birth order and certain personality traits. Understanding how these traits result from and contribute to the roles we play in our families can give us insight into the roles we tend to play outside the home.

Feel free to hold this loosely, of course. We are all our own individuals, and variables such as gender, having a twin, varying sizes in sibling age-gaps, and other environmental/social factors do impact the traits we develop. That said, here is a very basic breakdown of Adler’s observations:

Oldest: Oldest children often play a pseudo-parent role in the family. Expectations and standards may have felt higher for you than your younger siblings, and you may have experienced greater degrees of responsibility.  It should come as no surprise that oldest children tend to develop into leaders, prioritizing high performance, achievement, ambition, and reliability. Others may describe you as most likely to step to the plate and take charge in a situation- understandable, given a sense of authority is familiar and comfortable to you.

Middle: Given your standing between siblings, you may find yourself the family peacemaker (mediator, negotiator) or contrarian. Perhaps you err on the side of competitiveness and rebellion, desiring to outdo or reject the standards set by your older sibling (AKA the “Pacemaker”), and be seen as your own individual. Or perhaps you are the more even-keeled of the bunch, not totally sure of your place in the family. These roles often result in prioritizing and excelling in a certain niche, both to obtain acknowledgment from parents as well as establish a place in the world. Either way, it is not uncommon for middle children to place great value on justice.

Youngest: Youngest siblings- a club I’m a member of- have the greatest number of parents to answer to (taking older siblings into account), so it makes sense we are notorious for being the “babied” members of the family. It is true we typically receive the most undivided attention from parents. Being so attended to can have a few implications: developing a sense of confidence and dependence, an attraction to attention, and a tendency to take on the role of “entertainer”. It is not uncommon for youngest siblings to experience comfort around adults as well as higher degrees of maturity when compared to same-age counterparts. These factors can translate into a sense of efficacy in academic and/or creative pursuits. If there is a significant age gap between siblings, youngest children may share basic traits experienced by only children (described below).

Only children: Share similarities to youngest children, and may in some ways be seen by parents as a “miracle”. Only children receive full, focused attention from mom and dad, which Adler believed may result in feeling over-protected, and/or a lack of comfort when receiving divided attention. Adler noticed only children display a unique maturity, developing a preference for adult interaction/attention, and utilizing more adult language.

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