What Work Environment You Thrive In, Based On Birth Order

by Megan Grant

We all have our thoughts about how birth order affects our behavior, attitudes, and habits; and according to new research, there's a new layer to the conversation: Firstborn sons are likelier to work in top positions, compared to second- and third-born children.

The research comes from the IZA Institute of Labour Economics. They found that firstborn sons are 24 percent more likely than second-born siblings to fulfill positions of CEO or top executive, and 28 percent more likely than third-born siblings. (Bad news for me, the youngest of three children.)

While these findings appeared in an article on Indy100 titled, "Older siblings are more successful, study says," that statement might be a bit tone deaf. Rather, later-born children are simply more likely to be self-employed, they found; and it hopefully goes without saying that self-employed people can be just as successful (and even more successful) than CEOs and big executives.

This isn't the first time we've acknowledge that birth order can affect your life — a truth most of us have come to accept (although, to be fair, there are still naysayers). Firstborn children, as the leaders of the pack, tend to be more cautious, controlling, and structured — traits that often stick through adulthood.

Middle children — often falling victim to the somewhat humorous "middle child syndrome" — can tend to feel left out, since they're neither the firstborn nor the baby. To make their mark, they're often people-pleasers, very social, and the peacemakers of the bunch. The baby of the family is frequently the most free-spirited, since by this point, their parents were likely much more laid back in raising them. They can be attention-seekers, self-centered, outgoing, and in search of fun.

Now, is there any truth to Indy100's title, claiming that older siblings are more successful? Yes and no. A 2007 study from Norway shows that firstborn children had two to three more IQ points than the next sibling. This could be because in the beginning, this child doesn't have to compete with anyone for time, attention, or objects. Everything is there when they want and need it. The aforementioned research from the IZA Institute of Labour Economics also found that firstborn children are more likely to spend time reading and doing homework, and their parents are more likely to discuss schoolwork with them, compared to later children.

That being said, the matter of birth order and how it affects us is like an onion — it has many layers.

If the traditional characteristics of your birth order don't apply to you, there's a good reason why: there are many other factors at play. In fact, according to the White-Campbell Psychological Birth Order Inventory, just 23 percent of women and 15 percent of men truly match the characteristics of their birth order. Here are some of the other factors involved in the equation:


Genetics affects personality development more than anything; and about half of your personality comes from what you were born with.


Gender is yet another factor that can blur the lines, particularly when the first two children aren't the same gender. In that case, the second-born doesn't have to carve out their own identity as much as they might otherwise, because they are the first child of their gender. Sometimes, both of these children will act like the firstborn.

Age Spacing

The closer in age siblings are, the greater the competition between them, especially if they're the same gender. Siblings one to two years apart could change the typical effects of birth order for this reason. Three to four years is more of the "sweet spot." Siblings five years apart or more can feel like starting a new family entirely.

In this case, the youngest sibling becomes the middle child, but might very well continue acting like the baby of the family due to the age gap.

Physical Appearance

A smaller oldest child or larger middle/youngest child could change the power dynamics, since the biggest child, AKA the boss, isn't necessarily the oldest.


It doesn't sound that great, but it might still be true: a child that is deemed more "special" — maybe because they're the star athlete or the smartest kid in school — might be treated as the almighty firstborn, regardless of birth order.

So, does birth order play a role in our personalities and even in our futures? Possibly. Is it all that determines who we are and where we're going? Definitely not.