The Birth Order Effect


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Most of us have heard the long-held theory that the order in which you and your siblings are born has an impact on your personality as an adult. While it may not hold up for every person in the world, studies have indicated there is a great deal of truth in that theory.


Average children per family in U.S.


Utah 2.21


West Virginia 1.71

5 years

Gap when birth order is restarted

The First-Born

These children quickly learn how to please their parents — becoming conscientious, organized and reliable and serving as surrogate parents to younger siblings.

First-born characteristics:

  • Reliable
  • Conscientious
  • Structured
  • Cautious
  • Controlling
  • Achieving


How much more quality hours spent with first children between the ages of 4 and 13 than their next sibling

Top careers for first-borns

  • Government
  • Information technology
  • Engineering
  • Science


Astronauts who’ve gone into space who were either eldest children or eldest sons

Famous first-borns

Walter Cronkite

Once the “most trusted man in America,” Cronkite famously reported on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the 1969 moon landing.

Key birth order trait: Reliable

Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey went from local Chicago TV reporter to one of the most influential (and wealthy) women in the world.

Key birth order trait: Conscientious

Winston Churchill

Churchill’s steadfast refusal to consider defeat helped inspire the English during World War II; he’s regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders in history.

Key birth order trait: Controlling

The Middle Child

Difficult to categorize, they avoid being boxed in and have a more go-with-the-flow attitude than their older siblings. They tend to be unbiased and levelheaded and are good at negotiations, most likely from playing mediator between their siblings.

Middle-child characteristics:

  • People-pleasing
  • Somewhat rebellious
  • Good friend
  • Social
  • Peacemaker

Top careers for middle and second children

  • Public service
  • Caretaking
  • Law enforcement
  • Construction
  • Education


Percentage of middle children who put money into their savings accounts each month (more than their older and younger counterparts). They are also more likely to be asked for money from a sibling.


Percentage of middle children who remain faithful to their partner

(compared to 65% for first-borns an 53% for youngest children)

Famous middle children

Barbara Walters

A TV journalist known for her celebrity interviews, Walters was the first woman to co-host a nightly evening news program.

Key birth order trait: Social

John F. Kennedy

A president whose life was cut short by an assassination, one of Kennedy’s biggest achievements was avoiding a nuclear incident during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Key birth order trait: Peacemaker

Martin Luther King Jr.

Leader of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, King’s message of non-violence in the face of attempts at repression helped galvanize popular thinking in favor of his movement.

Key birth order trait: Rebellious

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The Baby

These children usually receive the least discipline, the fewest responsibilities and the biggest audience. As a result of being babied, they tend to be tender and altruistic. They learn that being funny and adorable gains attention and approval.

Youngest characteristics

  • Fun-loving
  • Uncomplicated
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Attention-seeking
  • Self-centered

Top careers for youngest children

  • Art
  • Design
  • Editing and writing
  • Information technology
  • Sales


Percent of youngest children who suffer from nightmares, compared to 25% of oldest children.

Famous youngest children

Mark Twain

The beloved American author and humorist has been called the father of American literature.

Key birth order trait: Outgoing

Stephen Colbert

The youngest of 11 siblings, Colbert shrewdly portrays an oblivious, arch-conservative newsman.

Key birth order trait: Attention-seeking

Prince Harry

The younger of the two English princes has provided tabloid fodder over the years with his somewhat reckless behavior.

Key birth order trait: Fun-loving

The Only Child

These children are typically mature for their age due to time spent with adults. Many are high achievers, with a few rebelling and following their own path.

Only child characteristics:

  • Mature
  • Perfectionist
  • Conscientious
  • Diligent

Top careers for only children

  • Information technology
  • Engineering
  • Nursing
  • Law enforcement


Percentage of one-child families

Famous only children

Elvis Presley

The best-selling solo artist in the history of music, Presley remains one of the most important figures in American culture.

Key birth order trait: Perfectionist

Frank Sinatra

A singer and actor expelled from school as a teenager, Sinatra defined an entire genre of popular music and represented a particular swanky lifestyle.

Key birth order trait: Mature

Franklin D. Roosevelt

America’s longest-serving president, Roosevelt grew up with a mother who lavished attention on him.

Key birth order trait: Diligent