The Science Behind Birth Order


We know the stereotypes when it comes to birth order science. The eldest is responsible and reliable, the one everyone trusts. The middle child is quieter, less sure of themselves, and the less said about the “baby,” the better.

And when it comes to conflict, the drill follows a familiar pattern. Who causes that conflict or flames it depends on who’s telling the story. It’s the reliable oldest, or the overlooked middle, or the spoiled one who brings up the rear.

Whoever it is, it’s not your fault, because you were led astray by that sibling who can get away with anything. Or perhaps it’s that you tried to restrain the baby, only to be told off because you tried to act all “controlling”. Whenever there’s conflict within family dynamics, there are no winners.

But are these views even relevant these days? Join Twin Cities Kids Club today for access to local discounts throughout the Twin Cities.

Beautiful Portrait of smiling happy teen kids outdoors. Four siblings standing together for a cute picture on a warm fall day

The Eldest Child

In theory, the eldest child is the way they are because they have always commanded their parents’ full attention. The middle child competes with the eldest for attention, but usually fails and sinks back into anonymity within the family. By the time the youngest arrives, the parents are pretty tired, so that kid gets to do anything they want.   

Studies into the science behind birth order can easily locate the dynamic eldest child who goes on to lead. Ten United States presidents were first-born children, as is industry leader Richard Branson, and World War II leader Winston Churchill. These children surely must have dominated their family, which is why they are or were able to dominate elsewhere.

Disabled younger brother in wheelchair laughing and giving older sistesr a hug while they sit together by ocean on misty foggy beach

The In-Betweens

Winners in birth order, winners in life, seems to be the rule, except when it’s not. What about other dominant world or business leaders, like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Presidents Washington, Jefferson, or Lincoln? 

If you accept the perceived wisdom of eldest child dominance, these should have played second fiddle to their elder siblings.

Middle children, according to folklore, are the forgotten ones, the children their parents overlook. They struggle to find their place in the family, and consequently tend to be submissive, pliant, and “the good one.” Which explains why Mark Zuckerberg, Princess Diana, and Charles Darwin are known for their quiet, non-stirring of the pot philosophies.  

Cute happy african american siblings hugging cuddling feeling love and connection, smiling mixed race kid girl sister embracing little boy brother sitting on couch, 2 children good relationships

The Last-Borns

Then there’s the baby of the family – the traditional afterthought, the forgotten one. Mom and Dad were more relaxed by the time the baby came along, so that kid got away with anything. 

Youngest children (as all elder siblings can testify) are bratty, spoiled, but somehow, they are still everyone’s favorite.

Presidents Reagan and FDR are among the few world leaders who were the babies of their families. Babies succeed more in the creative world, where they make their own rules (as they did in their families). Think Charlie Chaplin, Johnny Depp, even Prince Harry, who pretty much decided they were going to do as they pleased.

asian daughter kid with infant sibling playing on bed wearing white together

The Exceptions

That’s the perceived science of birth order, but let’s be honest – it’s all relative because it depends on your relatives. The rule book may tell us that the oldest is successful, the middle is forgotten, and the youngest is a rebel. But we threw that rule book out a long time ago.

For starters, how often is the “eldest” child actually the eldest child? Maybe he or she was simply the first to make it to adulthood? High infant mortality would have made that first surviving child extra precious, so little wonder Mom and Dad cherished them.

Or what about mixed or blended families, when one parent has children to an earlier partner? Does that mean that the first-born child to one parent, counts as the eldest if there are half-siblings? Eldest child of one parent, but not the other – we need a confused emoji to deal with that idea.

What happens if the first-born child is a twin, and therefore only first-born by a matter of minutes? Technically, that child is still older, but what about the rest of the mantra, which says the oldest child is dominant? This could hardly be an environmental issue, given that the eldest only hold their place by such a short margin.

When larger families were the norm, there would have been a plethora of middle children (who, until their next sibling arrived, were the youngest). And by the time the baby arrived, did anyone still keep count? George III of England had 15 children – did he notice when mom left for the birthing room by the end?

Cute little girl playing in the summer field of wheat

The Onlies

With smaller families the norm, only children are common, and so birth order science gets turned on its head. With no siblings to fill the supplementary roles, the only is the eldest, middle, and youngest all in one. Onlies are the focus of mom and dad’s attention, the ones who want to conform, and the spoiled child.

Onlies benefit in many ways from their single status. It’s harder to provide for a large family, so purely in the financial sense, onlies tend to be better off. Not having to compete with siblings for quality time with parents means extra help with homework, sports, and hobbies.  

However, it’s not always sunshine and roses for only children. With no siblings to share the attention, they carry all the hopes, dreams, and burdens of their parents. There is perceived wisdom that onlies lack social skills because they have no similar-aged peers in their family circle.

childhood, leisure and family concept - happy little kids having fun in bed at home

One Child or Many – It Doesn’t Matter

Socialization, or lack of, plays a large part in child development, regardless of where in the family the child sits. If the child is missing out on time with age-appropriate companions, or conversely has too many, parents need alternatives. This is why children go to daycare, school, or holiday camps (it’s not just to give parents “time out”).

Make sure you are making memories along the way. Get some family pictures soon to remember this time of life.

So if you’re looking to give your child or children some social times, check out the Twin Cities Kids Club member benefits. There is something for children of all ages, from tours to festivals, to bike trips, movies, and muppets. The larger the family, the better the discount, but don’t worry – onlies are just as welcome!

Contact our staff for opening times, family discount cards, and to see what’s on offer.


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