Are we failing our younger kids?
Being first has its perks.
First-born sons are 24% more likely to land top manager positions such as CEO than second-borns, and 28% more likely to do so than third-borns, according to research published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.
That may be because first-born sons tend to score higher on batteries testing for important leadership characteristics, including emotional stability, persistence, outgoingness, willingness to assume responsibility, and ability to take initiative. And when they are teens, first-borns are more likely to read books and spend time on homework, and less likely to watch television; later-born children spend almost an hour less per week on homework than their older siblings.
Why does this happen? It’s not biological: After examining families in which an older sibling had died or been put up for adoption, the researchers found that the younger sibling began to showcase more leadership traits.
So this likely has to do with mom and dad. Indeed, previous research shows that parents demand more from — and are stricter with — first-borns than their other kids. Meanwhile, later-born children receive less adult supervision.
“The first child, in some ways, can be deemed as ‘the guinea pig’ because they [the parents] haven’t had experience with other kids,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, and author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Because of this, parents generally scrutinize the firstborn more, have higher expectations, and monitor them more closely.”
Sibling rivalry might also be a factor. “Rivalry and conflict are common features of sibling dynamics,” the study’s authors explain. “Older siblings take a more dominant role in such conflicts and engage in more elaborate conflict strategies.”
Still, younger siblings get plenty of career perks too. If you’re dreaming of owning your own business, this is more likely for you if you’re a later-born child. And this older-sibling-success leadership pattern was not found in creative occupations: Indeed, boys are even more likely to enter creative occupations if they have older brothers. And, of course, it’s far from impossible for younger siblings to land top spots in business. Both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have older siblings.
If you’re a parent of multiple kids, this research offers important lessons. “Encourage your child’s unique and individual ideas,” Walfish says, so they feel special no matter when they were born. It’s also important to minimize sibling rivalry, by having “an open family discussion about equal love for each of your children,” says Walfish, and establishing “special time with each child individually to build upon trust and bonding.”
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