Birth Order Characteristics

A happy group of siblings
Does birth order determine personality?

It has long been theorized that birth order affects personality, but what are the birth order characteristics? Birth order may play more of a role in the development of a child's personality than parents realize. There are some general characteristics that can often be seen in groups of children with a common rank in birth order.

Birth Order Theory

Birth order theory suggests that birth order can affect the developing personality of a child. Eldest children, youngest children, the middle child and only children fall into statistical groups with similar personality traits. That's not to say that every child will display every trait (or even any trait) associated with their place in the birth order; only that there is a statistical correlation that seems to suggest the probability that a child's ranking in birth order may result in certain traits that are common to other children of the same ranking.

Common Birth Order Characteristics

The sections below list birth order characteristics that are often common to children of the same rank in birth order. It is important to note that these characteristics aren't set in stone, and that just because your child falls into a certain rank in the birth order doesn't mean that he or she will display all - or even any - of the characteristics outlined.

Only Child

The unique position of the only child in a household of adults often results in a number of common personality traits.

  • Close relationship with parents
  • Natural born leaders
  • Possess a high level of self control
  • Communicate and get along well with adults
  • Can be demanding
  • Can be spoiled and self-absorbed
  • May feel a sense of "specialness"
  • May feel they are being treated unfairly if they don't get their own way
  • May be quite sensitive
  • Often mature and dependable
  • Often very private in nature
  • Likes being the center of attention
  • Will often "divide and conquer" parents in order to get what they want
  • May relate better to adults than peers

Famous only children include Robin Williams, Natalie Portman, Tipper Gore, Rudy Giuliani, Alan Greenspan, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.

Oldest Child

The oldest child is the only child for a period of time and can often show similar traits to only children; however, being the oldest of a group of siblings also may bring about other personality traits including the following:

  • People pleasers
  • Natural leaders
  • High achievers
  • Conformist
  • May be bossy or a know-it-all
  • Are often very organized and prompt
  • May be overachievers
  • They may behave in a very authoritarian manner, especially towards younger siblings
  • May seek attention - in both positive and negative ways
  • Often controlling
  • May become compliant and nuturing

Famous first borns include Oprah Winfrey, Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Arsenio Hall. More than half of the American presidents have been first born children.

Middle Child

Middle children generally display similar personality characteristics, although the characteristics are more likely to appear in children who are the middle of three than in middle children of larger families. Some birth order characteristics of middle children include the following:

  • Flexible
  • Easy-going
  • Independent
  • May be an excellent mediator or negotiator
  • May feel that life is unfair
  • May feel unloved or squeezed out by siblings
  • Can be highly adaptable
  • Often generous and sociable
  • May try to differentiate themselves from the eldest sibling through behaviors and interests
  • May perceive that the oldest or youngest child are the parents' "favorites"
  • May be rebellious
  • Engage in attention seeking behaviors
  • May be extremely competitive

Famous middle-born children include Donald Trump, Tim Allen, Rosie O'Donnell and Julia Roberts.

Youngest Child

The baby of the family is often looked on as a carefree and spoiled position in the family. Characteristics of youngest children include:

  • Often silly or funny
  • Can display risk-taking behaviors
  • Are often creative
  • Can be very self-centered
  • Often feels inferior as if everyone else is bigger and more capable
  • Is highly competitive
  • Can become bored easily
  • Are usually friendly and outgoing with a terrific sense of humor
  • Expects others to care for them and take responsibility for them
  • Will often ally with the oldest sibling against the middle sibling (if three children)
  • Can be equal parts charming and manipulative
  • May be very idealistic

Famous youngest children include Howard Stern, Ralph Nadar and Jay Leno.

As you can see, birth order can result in both positive and negative personality traits; however, it is only one small piece in the puzzle of how one's personality develops. By using effective parenting strategies, you can help your children grow into responsible and caring adults - regardless of their position in the birth order.

Birth Order Characteristics