Are you the oldest of your parent’s children? Have you always had the sneaking suspicion that yes, you are more mature, intelligent, and reliable? In adulthood, it’s not something the oldest in the family is likely to say out loud in a serious tone. However, it just might be true.
The University of Edinburgh followed 5,000 children from the womb to age 14. What they found was that children who are born first in their family rank higher in IQ tests by the age of one. In addition, they exhibit higher marks in reading and vocabulary.
The study is said to support a sometimes-controversial theory known as the birth order effect. The birth order effect points out common characteristics held by siblings depending on where they sit in order of birth. For example, most of us are familiar with the generalization that middle children are wild cards who struggle to find their place in the family.
Research conducted on the birth order effect, as it applies to the oldest sibling, demonstrates that these advantages follow them into adulthood. Many first-borns go on attain higher education levels and better salaries than their younger siblings.
Needless to say, it’s pretty apparent to researchers where these advantages come from. Parenting philosophies shift as families expand, and first-borns reap great rewards.
New parents are more likely to be strict about what their first child learns and experiences, and since there are no other children at this stage of their development, these children get the undivided attention of their caregivers. Also, a lot of moms can attest that they were much more tense and overprotective with their first, and as the family evolved, became more comfortable with the idea of just winging it. Because hello, kids are exhausting.
Feeling a little defensive about how you parented your younger ones? Don’t. The study indicates that these parents generally pour equal amounts of love and support on all of their children. It’s just that the first child gets more brain stimulation and one-on-one engagement in those first years.
But as any first-born will tell you, these early, advantageous experiences don’t tell the whole story. First-born siblings are also expected to shoulder more responsibility as their parents have more children. From household chores, to babysitting, to setting a good example, parents tend to expect more out of their eldest.
However, first-borns are more likely to have the knowhow required to carry out these responsibilities, since that early undivided attention helped sharpen their critical thinking and problem solving skills. As a result, they may be more well-equipped to stride steadfastly into adulthood.
For the study, the University of Edinburgh examined a range of factors impacting the family dynamic. As they state, “The researchers [used] an assessment tool, the Home Observation Measurement of the Environment, to observe parental behavior, including pre-birth behavior, such as smoking and drinking activity during pregnancy, and post-birth behavior, such as mental stimulation and emotional support.”
One interesting point they found is that mothers had an increased likelihood of engaging in higher-risk behaviors with their second or third pregnancies. While emotional support was pretty evenly distributed, the younger ones enjoyed less crafting, story times, and play with musical instruments than the first born.