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How Does You Order of Birth Influence Your Personality?

Some people swear you can predict a person's personality by the month in which they were born. Others use hair color, astrological readings, Chinese Zodiac calendars, or -- and this one is way up there on the list -- birth order.

Whether you are first born, a middle child or the baby of the family may indeed have some influence over your future personality according to research. But to what extent and how is still being hotly debated.

birth order

Your birth order could influence your social outlook, your likelihood of being sent to private school as a child -- even how much money you'll make, say some experts.

Birth Order Influences Who You Are

According to some researchers, your birth order is intricately intertwined with how you relate to the world, what kinds of grades you earn in school and how much money you ultimately make.

"Within the family, they [birth order differences] are about as strong as gender differences," says Frank Sulloway, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of "Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics and Creative Lives."

In short, Sulloway maintains that first-borns identify with the power and authority of their parents, and later are more conforming in life. First-borns want to "defend" their position as the first child, and later become defensive as adults.

Meanwhile, younger siblings are at the other end of the spectrum, ready to challenge authority, rebel, and try out new experiences, which early in life may help them gain attention from their parents.

But Some Say Birth Order Means Virtually Nothing

Ask Dalton Conley, author of "The Pecking Order," his take on birth order and personality, and you'll get an entirely different answer.

"Birth order makes about as much sense as astrology, which is almost none," says Conley in an ABC News report.

According to Conley, birth order does not impact personality nearly as much as other factors in childhood, such as the death of a parent, financial difficulties, gender expectations, family roles and other random events.

"… Birth order is basically at the bottom of that list," Conley says. "It's just like astrology. When you see a good fit, you say, 'Hah! He's such a Gemini.' When you see a good fit, you say, 'hah, he's such a first-born, aggressive control freak,' but when it doesn't fit the mold you don't even notice it."

What Does Your Birth Order Mean?

Whichever camp you side with, it's hard to resist checking to see if your personality fits with the "accepted" traits of each birth place.

First Born

First-born children are goal setters, perfectionists and sometimes worriers . They are responsible, detail-oriented, and they follow the rules while trying to please everyone they can.

"These are the highest achievers," says psychologist Daniel Eckstein, PhD, from Ottawa University in Phoenix, Arizona.

Famous First-Borns: Presidents Truman, Johnson, Carter, and George W. Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Geraldo Rivera, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Ted Koppel and Jackie Onassis.

Only Child

Only children are like first-borns, but exaggerated. They're extremely responsible, like to do everything perfectly and often get along with people older than themselves.

Famous Only Children: Frank Sinatra, Robert De Niro, Elton John, Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams.

Middle Child

Personality aside, most experts agree that the middle child has it the toughest. They're constantly trying to outdo their other siblings, who have gained special status as first-born or the baby, and according to Conley, are "25 percent less likely to be sent to a private school than they were before, and they're five times more likely to be held back a grade."

Middle children tend to rebel, be competitive and may feel that they don't entirely belong. They're also flexible, diplomatic peacemakers who are generous, outgoing and social.

Famous Middle Children: David Letterman and Donald Trump.

Last Born (Youngest Child)

birth order

There are exceptions to the birth order rules: large age differences between siblings, blended families and multiple births can all skew the results.

Because the youngest child is usually spoiled, protected and at least somewhat babied by the family, they grow up with the feeling that they can do no wrong. Youngest children are risk takers who love attention, creative "idea" people, and have a good sense of humor .

They can also be manipulative, persuasive and persistent, and may wish they could stay the youngest child forever. Because of this, last-borns may have a greater risk of psychiatric disorders and substance abuse problems, according to Eckstein.

Famous Last-Borns: Katie Couric, Ross Perot, Goldie Hawn, Jim Carrey, Jay Leno, Billy Crystal, Drew Carey and Steve Martin.

Exceptions to the Rule

Does your personality not come close to the descriptions for your birth order? It's worth noting that there are several caveats that can seriously skew these birth order "rules."

  • If there are a number of years between siblings, the birth order chain will start over. For example, if six years go by between the first and second child, the second child may take on personality traits of a first-born.

  • The birth order within genders can also start the chain over. For instance, if the first child is a girl and the second a boy, the boy may take on some first-born traits since he is the first-born male.

  • Deaths of siblings, adoptions, step-siblings, multiple births and divorce, in which siblings live separately, can also influence birth order traits.

Recommended Reading

Why We're Living (Far) Shorter Lives Than Ever, and What to Do About It

How to Role Model Effective Stress Reduction Strategies For Your Kids


CBS News: Personality Traits Linked to Birth Order

ABC News: Does Birth Order Determine Personality? Birth Order and Personality

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