What Does Our Birth Order Say About Us?

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Published on October 30, 2015

All of us were given the common gift of life from our parents. All families are different in many ways but no matter the time, location, or countless other circumstances, this common gift catalyzes the natural evolution of our family unit. The diverse dynamics of the family unit have been studied at length to find any common ground still stable that can stem from that pure gift of life.

The order in which we are birthed in our families does have an effect on our personality profile. While it may not be the only factor that shapes our behaviors and personality development, birth order does cover a broad and general description of the type of person we can become.

The results may be known as sweeping stereotypes, and this is because they are sweepingly accurate. As always, there are anomalies; I found some in my research. I learned that although I am the youngest in my family, I also embody many characteristics of an oldest child. Chalk it up to my oldest sibling and I having a significant number of years in between us, or whatever you will. This doesn’t at all negate the well-supported statistics that I also portray the typical qualities of a lastborn child. All in all, it is important to learn everything we can about why we are they way that we are now, so that we can use it to be the best we can be tomorrow.

Alfred Adler has the most well-received analysis on this topic. Let’s take a look at the common characteristics he found in oldest, middle and youngest children. Then I will provide supporting insight from my own experience in the family unit. Notice the natural evolutions that happen in the parenting styles and sibling interaction with each accumulating birth.


Siblings, youngest (the author) to oldest. Photo by Judith L. Tunila

The oldest child: The oldest children, or firstborns, are labeled as the leader-type. These children have only adults to follow after which tends to shape them into achievers and ambitious perfectionists. They are often the most athletic in the family unit and can also be described as responsible. Once the parents have more children to care for, the oldest will again continue to copy the nurturing behavior the parents show to the new baby. Firstborns almost always become parents themselves, perhaps due to the nurturing love they are taught at a young age. Firstborns are very likely to end up in VP or leadership positions in their career. More than half of the U.S. presidents are first borns. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are both first born in their families.             

I find this to be true in my sister, Darcy, the firstborn in my family unit. In her youngest years my grandmother’s found her to be assertive and even bossy. She was an only child for five years. She went on to be a champion softball player and valedictorian of her class. She is now married and pregnant with her first child.

The middle child: The middle child(ren) have a few variables that could shape their personality differently. However, as a sweeping stereotype these children become, peaceful, compromising and talented people. They are peaceful and compromising because they are taught from the very beginning about sharing (attention, rewards etc.) and not winning everything every time. Middle children are very talented and popular, usually developing a large network of friends, either due to their talent or getting the full attention they don’t get from family from their friends.

Parenting styles for the middle children are different from the first born in that the firstborn is another role model figure for the middle child. Furthermore, they have to give up the throne of being the baby when the next child is born, thus, according to Adler, instilling further their acceptance of sharing and compromising.

I can especially vouch for this statistic because my older brother, Ryland, is the middle child, and he was the only boy as well. My sister was very involved in his upbringing because of the nurturing she saw my mother give him. He was always the most talented at anything he picked up and also built and maintained an impressive network of friends that love him very much today.

My husband, Alex, is also a middle child who also fits the middle child stereotype well. He looks up to his older brother very much, and is also extremely different from his older sibling. They say that happens with some middle children who learn to, in a way, compete with the first born for fresh attention. Alex is another person who is intuitively talented at anything he picks up, and immensely popular wherever he goes.

The youngest child: Three descriptive words for the youngest child are: lazy, creative and funny. Youngest children never have to give up the throne of being the baby in the family. They are easy going because everyone around them is already used to being in the family unit. They are surrounded by that mentality and mirror it. In every sense of the word, they are always looking up to the rest of the family. They can be lazy because many things are already done before them. They are comfortable with being the center of attention for a very long time and this gives them an extended opportunity, Adler says, to find joy in getting laughs out of people.

Parenting styles are relaxed by the time parents have had their last child, and there is much less discipline because of the trials the parents have experienced before. This leads to a free spirited “baby” who is less afraid to take risks. It is not uncommon for youngest children to go into creative fields such a journalism. Jim Carrey and Steve Martin are both examples of youngest children.

I can also easily vouch for this explanation being a youngest child. I am certainly all of these adjectives (I have been called lazy more times than I would like to admit) and am pursuing a career in film.

The funny thing about stereotypes is that they are labeled as such because of their accuracy, and can also be chalked up to just that, a stereotype. But I argue this, even if someone doesn’t feel like they satisfy their birth order stereotype, because of one variable or another (mixed families, broken families, etc.) can still find at least one characteristic about themselves that is consistent with Alfred Adler’s findings. And that makes them fit the stereotype, which is only a stereotype and not a promise.

I encourage all to find of what their birth order personality profile depicts about them, and use the knowledge objectively and to your advantage.