Implications of Birth Ordinals

Implications of Birth Ordinals



Studying birth order and its implications

This article discusses the possible effect of birth order, ie the role of the ordinal placing of a child with respect to age, along with the familial and societal expectations on personality traits, intelligence, and occupational achievement. It concludes by acknowledging the major role birth order plays along with other discussed factors taken into account.


Family is the crux of development and single-handedly has the majority of impact on our being. Whether it is our self-description, personality, achievement orientation, or intelligence quotient, all of them are determined by our experience of our family. One of the many factors that play a role in family dynamics is the ordinal position of an individual amongst siblings, ie, birth order.

The manner in which responsibilities and expectations are divided depends heavily on the ordinal order in which siblings are born. Even in your own households, you may have seen that the older siblings are expected to be role models and mentors for their younger siblings while the younger siblings are expected to abide by their word.


These characteristics of the elder siblings being more empathetic and conscientious has found backing in Sulloway’s research (1996) through his Family Niche Theory. This means that the siblings tend to adopt certain personality traits to enhance ease of functioning within the family, as desirable. It is often noticed that elder siblings act as surrogate parents, guiding and aiding their younger siblings in every which field. 

But why do sibships mold their role and personality according to such notions because as children societal pressure and expectations to do not load up as they would later? This may be possible due to the general adaptive tendency within family structures to make them more cooperative. You may have seen even in your own households, every person has a particular niche. Your mother may be the one who takes decisions whereas your father may be the one executing them. One of the siblings may be the cranky and difficult due to which the other automatically becomes the more somber and cooperative one.

Delroy L. Paulhus et al (1998)  observed that first-borns were nominated as most achieving and most conscientious while later-borns were nominated as most rebellious, liberal, and agreeable. 

While going through this article it may do well to ponder upon the difference that has been brought up due to the singular fact of birth order. Not only for you and your siblings but for your mothers’ and fathers’ siblings as well. Even later as adults you may have seen that your grandparents depend more on the eldest son or daughter for advice or aid.

Herein we must also take into account the gender differences, something that would play an even greater role in the Indian context than it would outside. In rural areas, it has been observed that if the house has an elder daughter and a younger son, then the daughter takes over the household chores while the son is given a relatively freehand till adulthood.


With such an evident impact on traits, it is quite possible that birth order has an effect on other areas such as intelligence. Here in research has been more quantified and conclusive.

Zajonc & Markus (1975) hold that firstborn children by virtue of having a majority of their interaction with adults, initially, tend to grow up in an intellectually stimulating environment. They also act as teachers to the younger siblings and therefore not only gain intellectually but also boost their self-concept while acting as mentors.

It is also important to take into account the fact that the firstborn has a developmental head start over the later-born merely due to the age difference. 

The general conclusion is that the firstborns have higher reported intelligence quotients firstly because of their roles as teachers to the younger siblings and secondly due to the developmental advantage they have over their later-born siblings.


We also see a general pattern of the elder sibling taking up occupations that are conventional and established whereas later borns have been found to pursue the alternative. This may be because parents are more invested initially in the prospects of the firstborn due to which the younger siblings are given a relatively free hand.

Research by Ronni Pavan (2015) has findings that indicate that first-born children tend to outperform their younger siblings on measures such as cognitive exams, wages, educational attainment, and employment. 

Questions around parental investment have been raised consistently as it is varied strongly from family to family. Often younger siblings may be more indulged than the elder one or vice versa.


Research on the same in India is lacking but a study by Chandola et al states that the place of the individual within the family, the first social structure encountered, is a contributing factor in shaping human personalities as well as emotional development. 

The research findings cited above have been developed in first world countries in the West therefore cannot be directly applied in the Indian context. Most do not take into account fundamental cultural differences in family dynamics.

The general conclusion that one can draw from this article is that many of the societal notions about personality characteristics, achievement orientation, and intelligence quotients coincide with research findings. As siblings grow older these differences tend to vanish altogether, again each with its own dependence on social and cultural backgrounds in context.

Finally, it is important to take note that birth order alone does not affect personality, intelligence, career achievement, and other allied areas. Familial roles, cultural norms, societal expectations, and personal experience of these factors are what determines its implications.

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