Birth order: does it shape who you are?

Happy Family


Birth order refers to a person’s place in the family.

Typical characteristics of being the oldest, middle or baby of the family has intrigued psychologists and may have an impact on our personal development.

As parents it can often baffle us as to why our children are so different. After all they have the same parents, have grown up in the same household and yet are poles apart in personality.

Family circumstances, relationships and attitudes can change over time so the firstborn child may have a different experience from siblings born later on.

Other variables which may affect the typical birth order characteristics of a first, middle and last child are:



  • Spacing (the number of years between siblings). If the children are more than 5 years apart in age, birth order characteristics may not apply. Both children in the family may be typical ‘firstborns’.
  • Gender – this can have an impact. A youngest boy with three older siblings may have a different family position to a youngest boy with 3 older brothers.
  • Family Structures – blending of families due to divorce, death etc can influence patterns.
  • Parental birth order – this can have an impact on the home environment.
  • Medical needs – physical differences or special medical needs for a child can skew typical characteristics.

New Family


First time parents try their hardest to make sure they do everything right. They tend to document the child’s every accomplishment and parents typically spend more time with their firstborn. Their attention is focussed only on one, they have time to play and encourage their child. This encouragement enables the firstborn to become very skilled at knowing what parents want and may increase the child’s desire to achieve and receive praise but it can also raise the pressure to succeed.
They are goal oriented and tend to exhibit a strong attention to detail. In addition since the family also may rely on the oldest child to look after younger siblings they are often viewed as a leader.
The desire to please as a firstborn also presents disadvantages as some may fear failure. Expectations may be high as the firstborn you are expected to lead by example and rules for behaviour may be tighter and stricter even when subsequent children are born.


The middle child can often tend to feel forgotten. If you glance at a family photo album you may see an abundance of pictures of the oldest child, some pictures of the youngest and very few in comparison for the middle child. This lack of individual attention can sometimes make the middle child feel unloved. They are not the prized firstborn or the baby of the family.
The characteristics for a middle child may vary hugely. They may be shy and quiet or friendly and outgoing. They may be a mediator or try and avoid conflict altogether.  They may try and compete with their older sibling or avoid competition. Often, the middle child will choose to excel in something the firstborn does not. For example, if the oldest child is doing well at school, the middle child may seek out sport and excel in this.
This position in the family by some may be deemed to be the toughest. However, a middle child can have the best of both worlds, as they can be both a big and little sister/brother at the same time. Middle-born children tend to be more people oriented because of the mediating role they have in the family and tend to acquire many friends.

brother and sister


The ‘baby’ of the family will be forever known as this, even as they approach their 30th birthday! To get attention from other family members the youngest child often likes to perform and is generally outgoing and thought of by the family as the affectionate one or as a charmer.
The youngest child can often receive a lot of attention as older siblings enjoy playing with the baby. However, because of this attention they may display more unfavourable characteristics such as being impatient and spoilt.
Since the ‘baby’ also has older siblings to depend on and view as leaders they may also shy away from responsibility and making their own decisions and not be an independent thinker.


In addition to your birth order, the combinations of gender and number of children can vary in many ways which can affect a child’s personal development. Knowing the birth order of who we interact with may help us understand why both we and they are the way we are. 
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