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Unraveling the Sibling Hierarchy: Birth Order and Long-Term Development

The dynamics of a family are as intricate as a spider's web, with each member playing a unique role. Birth order, or the order in which siblings are born, has been a subject of fascination and debate for generations. Many wonder whether the order in which we arrive in a family has any bearing on our long-term development. Does it shape our personalities, our achievements, and our relationships with others? Let’s explore the impacts of birth order on long-term development, drawing from various studies and research to shed light on this intriguing topic.

Birth Order Basics

Birth order is typically categorized into four positions: the firstborn, middle child, last born, and only child. Each position comes with its own set of experiences and challenges that can potentially influence one's development. Alfred Adler, a renowned psychoanalyst, introduced the concept of birth order in the early 20th century and suggested that the position in the family hierarchy significantly shapes a person's personality and behavior.

The Firstborn Child

Firstborns are often perceived as natural leaders. They tend to be conscientious, responsible, and goal-oriented. They typically receive undivided attention from their parents during their early years, which can instill a sense of confidence and achievement. Studies suggest that firstborns tend to excel academically and are more likely to attain leadership positions later in life (Sulloway, 1996).

The Middle Child

Middle children often occupy a unique space in the family hierarchy. They are neither the "trailblazers" nor the "baby" of the family, leading some to believe they have to fight harder to establish their identities. Middle children are thought to be more adaptable and sociable, capable of forging strong interpersonal relationships. Research indicates that middle children tend to be more open to compromise and negotiation, which can serve them well in careers and relationships (Salmon & Hehman, 2018).

The Last born Child

The last born child is often seen as the "baby" of the family, enjoying a considerable amount of attention and pampering from parents and older siblings. This can result in last born children developing a charming and outgoing personality. They tend to be creative, risk-takers, and adept at using humor to their advantage. Research suggests that last born children may gravitate toward careers in the arts or entertainment (Ernst & Angst, 1983).

The Only Child

Only children have their own set of circumstances. They grow up without the influence of siblings, which can lead to strong self-reliance and independence. On the downside, they may have higher expectations placed on them, which can lead to perfectionism and an aversion to risk. Nevertheless, only children often excel academically and achieve professional success (Falbo, 1984).

Impacts on Long-Term Development

The impacts of birth order on long-term development are complex and influenced by various factors, including family dynamics, culture, and individual personality traits. While many studies have provided valuable insights, it is important to remember that individual experiences can vary widely.

1. Personality Traits: Birth order can influence personality traits. Firstborns tend to be responsible and organized, middle children are often sociable and adaptable, last born children are creative and charming, and only children tend to be independent and high-achieving. However, it is crucial to consider that personality traits are not solely determined by birth order and can be shaped by other factors as well (Eckstein & Kaufman, 2004).

2. Sibling Relationships: Birth order can impact sibling relationships. Firstborns may take on a protective or authoritarian role, while last born children may be more rebellious or reliant on their older siblings. Understanding these dynamics can help improve family relationships and communication (Feinberg et al., 2015).

3. Career Choices: Birth order can influence career choices. Firstborns, with their leadership qualities, often excel in managerial or leadership roles. Middle children, with their negotiation skills, may thrive in professions that require teamwork and compromise. Last born children, with their creativity, might gravitate toward artistic careers. Only children, being high-achieving and independent, often excel in academia and entrepreneurship (Sulloway, 1996).

4. Relationship Patterns: Birth order can affect romantic relationships. For example, firstborns may seek partners who provide structure and stability, while lastborns might be drawn to more carefree and creative individuals. Understanding how birth order impacts relationship dynamics can help individuals navigate their romantic lives more effectively (Salmon & Hehman, 2018).

While birth order can play a role in shaping our long-term development, it is just one of many factors that influence who we become. The family environment, parental upbringing, culture, and individual personality traits all contribute to our development. Birth order, however, offers valuable insights into how our position in the family hierarchy can influence our personalities, career choices, and relationships.

Understanding the impacts of birth order on long-term development can help us navigate our lives more effectively, whether as parents striving to support our children's growth or as individuals seeking to understand ourselves better. It is important to remember that while birth order can provide a framework, it does not dictate our destinies. Our choices and actions ultimately shape our paths in life, regardless of where we fall in the sibling hierarchy.


  1. Sulloway, F. J. (1996). Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives. Vintage.

  2. Salmon, C. A., & Hehman, J. A. (2018). Birth order and family dynamics across the life course. Annual Review of Sociology, 44, 253-268.

  3. Ernst, C., & Angst, J. (1983). Birth order: its influence on personality. Springer

  4. Falbo, T. (1984). The single-child family. Guilford Press.

  5. Eckstein, D., & Kaufman, A. (2004). The role of birth order in personality: An enduring intellectual legacy of Alfred Adler. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 60(4), 456-470.

  6. Feinberg, M. E., McHale, S. M., Crouter, A. C., & Cumsille, P. (2015). Sibling differentiation: sibling and parent relationship trajectories in adolescence. Child development, 86(3), 812-827.

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