The study of personality development interests one and all. There is not a single factor that shapes up a person the way he or she is to the world. There are literally innumerable factors, from environment to astrology that are believed to affect personality development.
Birth Order and Personality
It is a general observation that firstborns are more responsible than their younger counterparts. The babies of the family often come across as rebellious beings and the only child to be pampered in the family. This opinion is also backed by many research findings.
But among the psychological experts, there are two contrasting opinions; one group believes that birth order has a lasting influence on personality, whereas the other group holds the exact opposite opinion. According to various studies, the following characteristics are seen in people, based on their order of birth in the family.
Firstborn: Overachievers, pragmatic, cautious, dominating, responsible, honest, dependable and unreceptive to new ideas.
Middle Born: Love to please people, minor trait of rebelliousness, mediators of peace, rational in thinking, generally have many friends and are dependent on them.
Last born: Enthusiastic and open to try daring ideas, want to be different, emotional, out going, tend to be manipulative and competitive.
Only Child: Attention seekers, hardworking, leaders, mature, self-centered and conscientious. Want to be perfectionists.
Theories that Support a Lasting Influence
Many studies have been conducted in the past to determine the effect of birth order on personality. Theorist Alfred Adler was the first to come up with a theory that studied the relation between birth order and personality. He strongly believed that the rank of the person among his/her siblings can have a lasting and strong effect on his personality.
According to Adler, the order of birth affects the way a person handles his/her relationships and factors like decision-making, communication and dealing with people. Alfred Adler had reasoned that elder siblings showed the traits like conscientiousness and agreeableness (from the big five model) and were mostly unacceptable to new ideas and change.
The big five model is a data driven model, used to describe the five important traits that describe the human personality. The five traits are - Openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The impact of birth order on these traits is disputed and vague. The effect on these five traits is supported by scholar Frank Sulloway.
In his (Frank Sulloway) book Born to Rebel, he has supported the views of Adler and has mentioned that later borns in the family tend to be rebellious and open to new ideas and adventure than the firstborns. This opinion of Sulloway is also backed by Paulhus and his colleagues, who had found similar observations if the big five traits are considered.
The Point of View of Critics
Among the psychologists there are contrasting opinions on determining the birth order of a person as a factor influencing the personality. The critics Fred Townsend, Toni Falbo, and Judith Rich Harris believe that it does not have a lasting influence; a sharp contrast to the opinions of Adler and Sulloway. The critics argue on the following points.
From the point of view of the detractors of Adler's theory, birth order is not a concrete factor while determining the impact. There are plenty of other factors like family size, financial condition of the family, death of a sibling, etc that can influence the nature and behavior of an individual more.
Kevin Leman, in his book, The New Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are has suggested that nine important factors should be taken into consideration.
The nine factors are - spacing between the children, emotional and physical differences between the kids, the relationship between parents, the nature of parents, blending of two or more families (in case of divorce), sibling death, adoptions, birth order of parents and sex of the child.
Also the fact that parents are more cautious in the upbringing of their first child cannot be ignored. For example it is generally the case that while raising their first kid, a couple refers to many books and puts in all the effort to make their kid responsible and a strict follower of good values.
On the contrast, they tend to be ignorant while raising their second kid and behave less stringently.
In the psychology circle, there are many opinions and nothing can be said for sure. In the observation of the general public it is strongly believed that birth order does influence the personality.
The effectiveness of birth order on personality and relationships would always be a debatable topic as nothing can be proven and everything depends vaguely on the research findings. Personality development is a continuous process and a single event can also make an impact on the behavior and personality of the person.