Here's Why Birth Order Might Not Matter

The oldest child is bossy and the most intelligent; the youngest child is rebellious; the middle child is cooperative and people-pleasing. Right? Well... maybe not. These are just a few examples of the many birth order stereotypes that are out there, and it turns out that they might not have much truth to them after all. According to a new study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, personality traits don't necessarily correlate with one's birth place in their family. I guess that means we're free to be whoever we want to be without worrying about whether it comes down to something outside of our own control now!

The study's sample pool included over 20,000 individuals, half of whom had German heritage, a quarter of whom were American, and a quarter of whom hailed from Great Britain. The idea was to examine each participant not only as a part of their individual families, but also in comparison to other sets of siblings. The participants were all given surveys with questions that scaled everything from their IQ to their scores on the Big Five Personality Inventory (you know the drill: The personality traits that make up the Big Five include Extroversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness).

Now, it's worth noting that the study did confirm some of the previously-held beliefs about birth order — eldest children tended to have the highest IQ scores with the scores trickling down the younger the cibling was, which means the idea of oldest siblings being the smartest might not be too far off the mark. This is probably because of a simple truth that can't be ignored: Parents spend the most time with their firstborn children. Thus, all of that extra time and undivided attention may go on to shape their level of intelligence for life.

In terms of the other personality traits though, sibling birth order didn't have any statistical significance. So, if you were thinking that the youngest sibling is the most imaginative or that the the middle child is the most level-headed, this data doesn't back up those ideas. "It was surprising the results are so clear,” co-paper author Julia Rohrer, from the psychology department at Germany’s University of Leipzig told TIME.

The researchers note that their results contradict previous studies, but for good reason. Their research focused on the Big Five personality traits specifically, where as earlier studies tended to look at character traits instead.

But, there's still a twist in the findings: It turns out that the further apart siblings are in age results in significant personality differences. So, siblings who are five years apart in age will often have more exaggerated differences in their personalities than those born, say, two years apart.

This study is not the be-all-end-all of birth order research, though, so it may take a lot more work (and more setudies) before we really understand how our birth order effects our personalities — or if it does at all. But in the meantime, we can rest assured that most of our personality traits don't have to do with what order we were born in.

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