Is Birth Order Personality A Thing?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You've probably heard about the birth order theory of personality before, but you may not have dug too deeply into it or thought about some of the finer details that go along with it. Some people believe the theory has merit, while others don't believe it has anything to do with their lives. If you're wondering why you are the way you are, however, checking out the traits of older, middle, younger, and only children may well give you some insight.

What is birth order personality?

Birth order personality theory says that your birth order may determine some of the traits you possess and learn. That is to say, whether you are the firstborn, youngest, middle, or only child in your specific family—or, of course, are an only child.

According to this theory, where you are born in the hierarchy of your family has a very large impact on the type of person that you will become and the type of traits that you will develop over time.

The theory of personality differences being based on birth order originated quite a while ago. In the late 1920's, to be exact. Alfred Adler is the psychiatrist who first came up with the theory, and since then, birth order has been considered to have a very big impact on who you will become as a person. Many have looked at the traits describing someone born first, last, middle, or only and found that these things are very similar to where they fit in their own lives.

In fact, many studies have been done to look at personality and birth order to see if there is a correlation, and we're not just talking about during Adler's time. More recent studies have been conducted and researchers have made some discoveries, including a higher level of honesty and dominance in firstborns, a higher level of conscientiousness and diligence in middle children, and a higher level of socialization and openness in youngest children. Finally, those who are only children are outgoing and sociable but also more nervous than their peers. 

How does birth order personality affect you?

Whether you’re an oldest child, middle child, or youngest child may impact you and the type of person that you become. Parents may treat children differently based on where they fall on this spectrum and siblings may treat each other differently based on birth order too, researchers have found. 

The oldest child

The firstborn child is said to be a natural leader and may even infantilize their younger siblings regardless of how old they are. Conservative but more power-oriented, these individuals tend to take charge from an early age because they may be responsible for their younger siblings on a frequent basis. Because of this they also tend to be more caring, more likely to jump in when something needs doing, and more interested in being parents themselves. 

These children may have an inherent ability to take on responsibilities, likely because they've had more responsibilities than their siblings all their lives.

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The middle child

Next up is the middle child, and they are known to struggle to be better than their older sibling in any way possible. Because they always have someone to try to "catch," they tend to push themselves harder and faster and may reach developmental milestones even faster than their older sibling did. They are very ambitious, but they're not selfish. Rather, they set goals for themselves that are higher than average and tend to push themselves to achieve everything they can. 

While they have a higher number of problems and even failures because of these high standards, they learn from an early age how to cope with difficulties and become even stronger as a result.

The youngest child

We come to the youngest child now, which is the one that seems to get more attention and more coddling from not only the parents but also other siblings. This can lead them to be less independent and less capable of accomplishing things on their own, though they tend to have a lot of self-motivation to do even better than their older siblings. 

As a result, they tend to push themselves hard and tend to achieve even more than their older siblings, becoming extremely successful. On the other hand, they can be irresponsible and frivolous compared to their siblings.

The only child

Finally, we come to the only child. These children don't have anyone to compete within their generation, and as a result, they tend to become competitive with their fathers instead. They may become dependent or even self-centered. 

Because they have no siblings around, only children may have trouble learning how to interact with peers and may become perfectionists. In turn, their perfectionism may push them to achieve whatever goals they set for themselves without fail.

Getty/Tony Anderson

Learning positive skills for your future

So, what do you do to start working toward those skills? Once you define the skills you want to build, you can start working towards them in any way you want. Actively pursuing things that stretch your boundaries and your capabilities is one way to start the process, and it's going to make a huge difference in the way that you live your life. The key is making sure that you continue to push yourself and that you're working towards improving yourself and what's out there for you. 

BetterHelp is a great way to get the help that you're looking for. With BetterHelp, you'll be matched with a therapist who can help you with whatever you're going through, whenever you need them. That's because although you set appointments with BetterHelp, you won't need to go to a doctor's office for sessions. Instead, you can get comfortable in your own home and have your sessions from there.

Online therapy becomes more popular every year. Much research has been done about how effective online therapy is, and study after study has found that online therapy is as effective—if not more so—as in-person therapy for any number of mental health issues.

BetterHelp is a completely online service that connects you with some of the best therapists in the country, and all you have to do is log on and connect to the service. Once you do, you'll be able to find someone that you feel comfortable with and get started on the path to developing new skills and improving your overall life. You'll be surprised just how much you can accomplish with this service and just how much you're going to learn about yourself. 

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The truth is there are good and not-so-good features for each level of birth order. Where first-born children are natural-born leaders, they may not do so well taking a back seat. Where middle children may be ambitious and self-sacrificing, their desire to achieve more means that they are more likely to experience failures in life. Where the youngest is motivated and sociable, they can also be irresponsible and frivolous. Where the only child is a perfectionist and successful, they are also more dependent and self-centered.

This doesn't mean that other skills can't be learned. It doesn't mean that the dependence you may have by being an only child can't be turned into a strong level of independence. It does mean that you can and should work on these skills to help yourself become more well-rounded and prepared for what is going to come at you throughout your life. It may take a little more work because you didn't learn those skills as a child, but you absolutely can learn them. If you're struggling to relate with siblings, help your children get along, or understand complex family dynamics, consider reaching out to an online therapist for guidance and support.

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