Parents Are Tougher On First Children, Just As We Suspected

If you've got younger siblings, it turns out you were right all along — parents are harder on the oldest child. Call it the First Child's Burden — our little brothers and sisters were blessed with later curfews and laxer dress codes. Heck, they were probably allowed to have beer at family gatherings before turning 21, weren't they? Whereas you still had to sneak sips from Grandma's wine coolers well into college. The brats.

As you might have guessed, I'm the oldest sibling in my family. I spent many a year griping about the easy street my parents seemingly let my little sis walk on. They denied it — but now a new paper backs up what we older children have known all along. According to Duke economists Joseph Hotz and Juan Pantano, "school performance of children ... declines with birth order as does the stringency of their parents’ disciplinary restrictions."

In particular, earlier born siblings are more likely to be subject to rules about TV watching and to face more intense parental monitoring regarding homework.

Matthew Iglesias writes:

Think about it this way. As a parent, punishing your kids has both costs and benefits. But while the cost of punishing your firstborn is basically the same as the cost of punishing a younger child (it's a hassle) the benefits of punishing your firstborn are higher because punishing the older kids has a spillover impact on the younger ones. So it makes sense to invest more in punishing the older child. But since the spillovers are not as strong as the direct effect, this means that older kids are both judged more harshly and do better in school.

In other words: We older children are smarter and our parents loved us more. What? That's not quite what the study is saying? That's my takeaway and I'm sticking to it.

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