Families in the 19th and early 20th centuries often had large families. What affect does birth order have personality? This is a question I considered while creating the Steward family in Angel of Mercy.
Birth order and personality wasn’t something people considered until the 1920s. That’s when Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler first theorized that birth order played a role in how people deal with school, work and relationships.
Adler’s views, however, have been challenged in recent years.
Michael Grose, a parenting expert, told Australia’s ABC News that it’s more about the role a child fills within a family. Younger children, for example, are born into a group and this means there are different expectations than there are for older children.
“Kids take up different roles and personality styles and because it happens so young — at a time when we’re forming all our habits, characteristics and personality — it tends to stick,” Grose said.
Things Beyond Birth Order Have an Affect
Parents also play a role, Grose explained. Parents are more experienced and focused with their younger children than they are with their first.
“When you have a gap of five to six years your family starts again,” Grose said, meaning expectations change yet again.
The size of the family also is important. “If there are 12 children, the ‘middle child’ can be any number of kids, or none of them,” Diana L. Walcutt, Ph.D, said on Psych Central. “The youngest, depending on the years between children, may always be the baby, but the oldest one may change as gaps occur in the birthing.”
Walcutt also points out that factors such as having a parent with mental-health issues or substance-abuse problems can affect a child’s development as can a parent’s divorce, remarriage or early death.
Other factors that affect personality include genetics, gender, physicality, being gifted intellectually, multiples, or having a disability or illness.
So which traits are assigned to each child?
The Oldest Child
According to Alder: Caring, more likely to take initiative, power-oriented, take responsibility for their younger siblings, predisposed toward leadership, conservative.
Modern traits associated with the oldest child:
- Generally more educated than their siblings
- A-type personality
The Middle Child
According to Alder: Higher pace of development, set unreasonably high goals in an attempt to surpass their older sibling, rarely selfish, a number of failures teaches them to cope with life.
Modern traits associated with the middle child:
- Do not feel special within the family and put more emphasis on friendships
- Obsessed with fairness
- More laid back
The Youngest Child
According to Alder: Receives much care and attention from the rest of the family, less experienced and independent, highly motivated to surpass older siblings, very sociable, irresponsible and frivolous.
Modern traits associated with the youngest child:
- Free spirit
- Risk taker
- Resent not being taken seriously
- Fun loving
- Babied to the point of helplessness
- Feeling nothing they do is important in their parents’ eyes
- Struggle for attention
The Only Child
According to Alder: Without any siblings to compete with competes with father, perfectionist, achieves goals, difficulty interacting with peers, overly pampered by parents, expects rest of the world to pamper them, self-centered, dependent.
Modern traits associated with the only child:
- Many of the same traits as firstborns
- Subjected to their parents’ high expectations
- Mature for their age
- More imaginative than other children
- Struggle with criticism
- Get along better with people older than with peers
Are these traits true or simply stereotypes passed down through the generations?
Updated: 28 October 2020