According to usual birth order stereotypes, first-borns are ambitious achievers and last-borns are agreeable slackers.
Studies have found 43 percent of CEOs are first-borns, and the oldest child is more likely to earn an MBA or become a surgeon. The disproportionate majority of members of the U.S. Congress are also first-borns.
A study released this year of 250,000 Norwegians showed the oldest child, on average, had an IQ 2.3 points higher than younger siblings.
“We know that birth order determines occupational prestige to a large extent,” Stanford University psychologist Robert Zajonc told Time in an October 2007 article.
“There is some expectation that firstborns are somehow better qualified for certain occupations.”
The 2008 Northwest Arkansas Business Journal 40 Under 40 class — awarded to high achieving business men and women in our area — shows that making generalizations about birth order can be problematic.
More than half — 22 of 40 — reported themselves as the youngest in their family through an anonymous survey and six were middle-borns.
That’s a 27 percent increase versus the 2007 class, while those reporting themselves as the oldest or only child declined from 18 to 12.
“Initiators, ideas people and the challengers,” writes Michael Grose, an Australian parenting expert, on the “youngests.”
“This group are the creative, live-for-the moment types who can put some fun and verve into activities. While the message for first-borns is to lighten up, it seems that this group need to take things more seriously sometimes.
“Great initiators and very impatient doers, they persevere to get something started but often are not the greatest of finishers. This group will often do anything to be noticed so make sure you pay heed to their efforts.
“Youngests, above all else, will blow your mind.”
The youngest sibling is often the greatest risk-taker, both in career and life. They are more likely to start their own business, skydive or play sports with reckless abandon.
They have high expectations from their parents like first-borns, but Grose writes they are more likely to achieve in their own way.
They are more likely to challenge the status quo while first-borns tend to preserve it.
Frank Sulloway, a professor at Cal-Berkeley, wrote the 1997 book “Born to Rebel” and in 1999 two researchers confirmed his theory by finding those arrested at a labor strike were most likely to be the youngest child.
First-borns gravitate toward fields like medicine and law, Grose writes, “where determination, strong powers of concentration and discipline are valued.
“It is no coincidence that anecdotal evidence suggest that first born males tend to be lower risk-takers as learners than girls or those in other birth positions.
“First-born boys fear failure so they often steer away from areas where they can’t excel.”
Theories abound on why the intelligence difference between first- and last-borns. Most account for the greater attention and educational resources devoted to the oldest child, who also usually tutors younger siblings.
A 2.3-point difference in IQ can make a 15-point difference in SAT scores, which can make the oldest child 30 percent more likely to get into an Ivy League college.
But last-borns usually develop other desirable qualities such as humor and people skills that help them achieve.
“One of the traits many last-borns share is persistence,” Grose said. “They learn when they are young that if they persist with what they want they will outlast their siblings and wear their parents down eventually.
“Persistence is a characteristic that pays off for this group.”