The study of personality is multi-faceted. There are many factors that shape one’s personality, and many definitions of the word itself. Personality has the ability to intensely affect one’s interpersonal relationships in many aspects. One factor of personality that has been studied extensively is birth order. Birth order refers to the numerical place of a person in the order of births in his or her family and how that person fits in the constellation of the family (Ernst & Angst, 9).
It has been observed across many studies that members of each rank—oldest, middle, youngest or single children—tend to have similar personalities as members of the same rank (Ernst & Angst, 13-16). It can be presumed that birth order will have an effect on all aspects of life, specifically interpersonal relationships.
There have been many studies that have focused on birth order, the results, however, have been inconclusive. Ernst and Angst (26) conducted more than 1,000 studies on birth order between 1946 and 1980 with no statistically significant correlation between birth order and personality traits. This can be attributed to the near impossibility of controlling other variables in the study, such as parenting techniques, economic status, and stages in the parents’ lives during which they raise children (Travis & Kohli, 501-502).
Alfred Adler was the first researcher to recognize birth order as a noteworthy factor in personality development. Adler understood that “even though children have the same parents and grow up in nearly the same family setting, they do not have identical social environments,” (Hjelle & Ziegler, 192). Adler was also the first to describe the differences in personality between siblings. The oldest child tends to be conservative, dominating, and a natural leader (Hjelle & Ziegler, 195). The only child tends to be needy and self-centered (Hjelle and Ziegler, 195). Adler wrote, “The only child has difficulties with every independent activity and sooner or later they become useless in life” (Leman, 155). The middle child is usually tries to achieve unrealistic goals that end in failure. Finally, the youngest tends to strive to out-do older siblings for recognition (Hjelle & Ziegler 196).
Walter Toman is a researcher that describes eleven different birth orders: oldest brother of brother(s), youngest brother of brother(s), oldest brother of sister(s), youngest brother of sister(s), the oldest sister of sister(s), the youngest sister of sister(s), the oldest sister of brother(s), the youngest sister of brother(s), middle sibling, the only child, and twins (Toman, 461). This obviously complicates studying the effects of birth order. Many studies, however, do support the variability of the gender of siblings as well as one’s numerical place in the family (Toman, 334).
Despite all the variability and complications within the study of birth order, more recent studies than the Adler and Angst studies are showing similarities in results. One...