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Kevin Leman, a psychologist who studies birth order.
Kevin Leman, a psychologist who studies birth order.
January 12, 2010

Firstborns rule. They’re conscientious and driven. They like to be in positions of authority, so they often become lawyers, engineers and astronauts.

In fact, 21 out of the first 23 astronauts were firstborn or only children.

This is according to Kevin Leman, a psychologist who has written 37 books and has appeared on “Oprah” and other talk shows.

“Firstborns rule, they really do. They’re at the head of the class about anything you can measure, from ACT scores to university professors,” he said. “They tend to do well in school. They have a jump-start on the rest of us.”

However, Judith Rich Harris disagrees that birth order accounts for the successes of firstborns. A psychologist and author of “The Nurture Assumption,” Harris argues that firstborns only “rule” within their families.

“When personality tests are given to adults in a neutral setting — a place that isn't associated with the family they grew up in — birth order effects are seldom found,” she said. “But if you ask people to judge the personalities of their children or their siblings, then you do find differences that depend on birth order.”

So is birth order a definitive predictor of behavior? Y-Press recently talked to various youth to see how they view birth order.

In general, firstborns are considered to be natural-born leaders – ambitious, motivated and driven. On the other hand, middle children tend to be independent and social and like to chart a course different from the firstborn’s.

Middle children often grow up to be entrepreneurs, Leman said. “Middles do things differently than all the rest of the kids in the family. If there’s a rebel in the family, a best guess is it’s a middle child. They associate outside of the family more than any other child,” he said.

The last born (or babies of the family) have a favored position – they are often spoiled by the entire family, accustomed to getting their way, and rule breakers. “Babies never met a stranger. They’re social, outgoing, manipulative,” Leman said.

But how do these roles play out in real life? The three children in the Davis family – Kameron, 13, Calynn, 10, and Kyle, 9 – aren’t sure if their family reflects the research.

Calynn, who is sandwiched between her brothers, fits the stereotype of a middle child – she’s quiet and different from her older brother, Kameron. But she shows signs of being a firstborn –Leman would suggest it’s because she’s the only girl.

Calynn works hard at school and gets the best grades in the family. Her brothers see her as the “favorite” child, but she says she warrants this designation because she is well-behaved.

She seems to be content with her place in the family. “I like the way I am because I like being an older sister and a younger sister.”

Kameron speaks quietly if he talks at all, which doesn’t align with firstborn traits. He likes being oldest but appreciates that being youngest also has benefits.

“My favorite part is that I get to boss them around and I get to do things they can’t. The worst part is you have a lot of responsibilities. They have to depend on me and I have to be careful what I do ’cause they will always watch me.”

As the youngest, Kyle enjoys his relative lack of responsibilities. He says he’s definitely the most talkative child in the family. “I’m loud,” he explained.

A survey of Y-Press members largely supports Leman’s theories. Of the 25 individuals who responded, most agreed with Leman’s categories, at least in part. Only four said he was off target.

At 18, Rebekah Taft is the oldest child in her family with siblings ages 16 and 14. She says she has some classic firstborn traits and is happy with her position in the family, for the most part.

“I don't like copying people, and being the oldest allows me to pave the way in schooling and extracurriculars. I'll have to admit that I am sometimes jealous of my youngest sibling who gets away with much more and doesn't have to do as many chores.”

Sam Gabovitch, 13, is the third of four children, which makes him a middle child. While he says he fits the stereotype of the social, rebellious child, he’d rather be the oldest or youngest.

“There are two siblings who feel they are in charge of me and one sibling who never gets blamed for anything because of her young age.”

Joey Krall, 13, is the oldest of two. He doesn’t feel Leman’s categories fit him entirely. “As a kid, I was precocious —really irritating for everyone — but very shy and somewhat self-centered,” he explained.

Likwise, Hrishi Deshpande, 14, says Leman’s stereotype of only children (high achievers, precocious, attention seekers) only partly describe him. “I am very mature intellectually but not spoiled, the center of attention, or self-centered,” he said.

“I am happy because I do not have to look after any siblings.”

While Leman’s categories have been challenged, he stands by them.

“A lot of people dismiss birth order and they’ll say, ‘Oh it doesn’t mean anything.’ Well I got news for you: What could make more sense than something that’s based on the fluid, dynamic relationship that exists between parents and children, and children with one another?”

Assistant editor: Michael Wang, 18.
Reporter: Lisa von Werder, 11. 

Copyright 2010 Y-Press 

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