Birth Order Theory

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Photo by Joel Bengs

Rena Dam and Liz Waid look at birth order theory. How does a child’s place in the family affect his character? Why are children from the same family often so different from one another?

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Rena Dam.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1

Imagine a family with three children. Maria is the oldest, David is the second child and Tom is the youngest. One day, their father told them some bad news – he lost his job. Maria was worried. She told her father that she would work to make money for the family. David put his arms around his father and told him that everything would be fine. Tom was sad – his father had promised him new shoes for football. How would he get them now?

Voice 2 

Why did Maria, David and Tom all react differently to their father’s news? Why are children from the same family often so different from one another?  Dr. Alfred Adler had a theory about this. He worked as a doctor in Austria one hundred years ago. He was very interested in the qualities of a person’s character or personality. Dr. Adler thought that the order that children were born into their families affected their personalities. Today’s Spotlight is on Adler’s birth order theory.

four kids holding hands
Photo by Ben Wicks
Voice 1 

There are four possible birth order positions within a family. A child may be the oldest, the youngest or the middle child. Other families have only one child with no brothers or sisters. Birth order theory says that our birth order influences what kind of person we each become.

Voice 2 

Frank Sulloway is a writer and family expert at the University of Calfornia, Berkeley. He believes that birth order affects personality and behavior. He talked to TIME magazine about it. He said that people develop this way for reasons of survival. If a family has more than one child, the children must compete for the parents’ time and resources – resources like food. Frank Sulloway says that people may not recognize that they are working for survival. But it is part of our natural desires. Sulloway says:

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Siblings are much smarter than scientists. They are always trying to define their place in the family. They try to get the most resources out of their parents.”

Voice 1 

Children in each birth position have a different way to gain an advantage in the family. Here are some of the main characters of personality by birth order:

Voice 2 

The first born or oldest child often gets more time with her parents. Think about our story from the beginning of this program. When Maria was born, she had no other siblings to compete for food or time. A first born child, like Maria, often wants to please her parents. She often takes control and responsibility in social situations. She may try to be perfect and do everything correctly. Jeffrey Kluger is a writer. He wrote a book about brothers and sisters. He described the character of an oldest child to the news station NPR:

Voice 4  

“It is often true that oldest children will be the most successful. They will be the ones who earn the most. They will be the ones who are most loyal to the family, most driven to achieve in traditional ways. They will also be the tallest, even if it is only by a few centimeters. They often have higher tested intelligence than the second-born.”

Voice 1 

The last born or youngest child, like Tom, is used to other people providing for him. He may be more concerned about himself than about other people. But Tom is also very friendly. He likes to make other people laugh with jokes and funny behavior. As the youngest, this is often the best way for him to get other people to notice him.

Voice 2 

David is an example of a middle child. He can sometimes feel left out. He does not get the advantages of being the oldest or the youngest. The middle child often develops skills in the arts, such as music or painting. Some middle children become competitive and even rebel against their parents. But many of them, like David, make peace in the family. As a middle child David has learned to work well with other people.

Voice 1 

The last birth order position is the only child. With no brothers or sisters she often gets whatever she wants! She does not have any competition for her parents’ time or resources. The only child often uses language very well because she spends so much time with adults. She can also feel a lot of pressure as the only child. This can make her competitive and hard-working.

three children sitting in the grass
Photo by Charlein Gracia
Voice 2 

Do these personalities fit you and your family? Some people find that birth order theory describes them very well. Other people say the theory cannot be tested and does not work. There are many other variables or different situations that may change the effects of birth order on personality.

Voice 1 

These variables include the sex and age of each child and the number of brothers and sisters. Culture and education also make a difference. So does the amount of money that the family has. The experiences of the family can also change how birth order affects personality. For example, some children are adopted, not born into, their family. Families also change as a result of sickness, death or divorce of the parents.

Voice 2 

Some children may also need different treatment because of disabilities or medical needs – and this can affect the other children in the family. Dianna Anderson, a producer for Spotlight, gives an example. She has two older brothers, and one is disabled. Dianna says,

Voice 5 

“Birth order is very different in my family. Because my oldest brother is disabled, my middle brother is much more like a first child. I am in between a middle child and a youngest child. My middle brother is very smart and is very serious about his work. I work very hard too but I also love to make people laugh. Having a disabled first child changed how our parents treated the rest of their children.”

Voice 1 

There are many different variables that influence people’s personalities and actions. Birth order is just one interesting theory. And, as Frank Sullaway told ABC news:

Voice 3 

“Humans are complex. You can find things that are more important than birth order. But that does not mean that birth order is not something we can learn from.”

Voice 2 

Has birth order affected your personality? We want to hear your family stories! Leave your comments on the script page for this program.

Voice 1 

The writer and producer of this program was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Birth Order Theory’.

Voice 2 

You can also find us on Facebook – just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Do you have brothers or sisters? Are you an oldest child, youngest child, middle child, or only child? Do you think this affects how you act? Write your answer in the comments below.

Join the discussion

  • I have 3 brothers,and 2 sisters.Iam the youngst one,but I think the order not affect on my personality

  • Well, I have two brothers and I am the youngest, think that affected my personality some time with bad as I was young, they didn’t take me to a custom ceremony and I don’t have commitment with some social activities ..etc , but when I grew up I fixed that with time!

  • Well, we are two siblings in the house, me and my older sister. I agree that my sister is more smarter than me and more competitive than me, and i also agree that as the youngest brother i try to take the attention by making jokes and try to make others lough to notice me. But the theory about hight in my case is wrong ivm taller than her in 18 centimeters.

  • yes i think that affected my personality . I have two sister and three brother so i am the oldest sister in my family . I often must take all responsibility in the home

  • Yeah, iam the middle child
    Yeah its affect on my character and way of thinking ,cause I take mor experince from my oldest sister

  • – yes , I have 10 siblings and I’m the youngest child in addition to ,that I have one from my siblings is disabled .
    – yes , of course that’s effect on my character , I love laugh and kidding and the same time I have a serious personality , hard work and high responsibility about my mother and sister .

  • Yes, I have 6 sisters and there brother’s, I thing it’s not fit us exactly, I don’t know may it effect in something may not.

  • I have 3 brothers and 4 sisters. I am the youngest child. The firstborn is my oldest brother, but he got married soon and left my house. The secondborn is my oldest sister is the person who takes care of the family and replay his role.
    I think the birth order theory affects me a little bit.

  • Yes l have 4 sisters and 3 brothers ,my order in my family before the youngest brother . My order birth doesn’t affect on my personality

  • My parents have three children. i’m the oldest, my sister is the middle child and my brother is the youngest. My three siblings are completely different in personality and thinking. i work hard to earn money and spend a lot of time taking care of my family, but my two youngers are not. My younger sister likes to participate in artistic activities such as: singing or dancing, etc. And my younger brother likes to participate in social activities like: volunteering, green summer, and his school’s clubs, etc. Even so, we are always loving each other and always standing by each other when my family has any problems

  • Yes, I have one brother and one sister. I´m the last born. I thing the youngest child, like me, have more opportunities to don´t make mistakes because I can see how grow my siblings and learn of them.

  • Actually, I have five siblings, I am a middle child and I have three brothers and two sisters, I don’t agree with this theory I think it doesn’t affect much, because anybody can control his act it is not important you are the oldest or the youngest if you want to do something you will do it anybody can be smart isn’t about being the oldest or the youngest

  • Birth order personality is different in my family, I have more siblings from other mothers and we live in a difficult situation that made us realize at a young age that we had to take responsibility for ourselves and make our world without much support from our parents or siblings. So we are ahead of the older minds

  • sure
    i have 8 sisters and 4 brother’s

    my order is elaven, i think i’m from the youngest

    I don’t think this theory is suitable for large families . so i can’t answer if it act or not

  • I have two siblings: a brother and a sister. Of course, I am the youngest child, and I believe that birth order is a really interesting theory that applies to me in particular. When I was a child, I was known as a person who was both interesting and humorous. However, now that my brother has a family of his own, I am left alone and have taken on the role of the eldest child.

  • My family consists of four people. My parents, younger brother and me. My parents are extremely fond of us and do not subscribe to male chauvinism. They are constantly concerned with what is best for me and him. Because I am the oldest sister, my father used to tell me that I should model good behavior in order to prevent such vices from being transmitted to my brother’s mind. I believe that this is the only thing that has an impact on my actions. I need to pause and consider my options before taking any action. The most essential quality is that he is filial to his parents and courteous to everyone. But I’m not going to be bothered by it. I believe that is the proper thing to do, and my younger brother is a well-behaved young man.

  • In my family, there are two generals. This is my parents and my siblings. There are 4 peoples in my family. I have a young brother. He is 17 years old and he studies at high school. And i am an oldest child. I feel very happy when i have a young brother because I have chance be an older sister. When i was young i always wish I have a sister or brother. But this is not occur. When I am an older sister I must share somethings better for young brother. I will guide his homework or the way to do something housework. Besides, i always have do good my role in order to my brother follow me. Although I remember that when we was young. Sometimes we also spend each other’s good. Since the far old of us is not too much.

  • I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters, I am a youngest child. I think this theory is true for my family. Thank you very much!

  • Yes I have five brother’s just, me youngest , I think my birth order affects on my personality , I wish always have a sister

  • Yes, I have four brothers and only one sister.
    I’am youngest.
    I think the order affect in my personality.
    My sister is ten years older than me. She was very intrested in my teaching. And she was wished see me as a doctor one day. Today I fulfilled her dream and my dream and became a dentist. And I want to continue my learning career more and more, I want to study master.

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