The oldest child
In many families, the eldest children exhibit more seriousness and responsibility than later-born brothers and sisters. “Oldest children are typically leaders who like to take charge and are real go-getters,” says Susan Bartell, PsyD. The fact that many firstborns often help with the care of younger siblings in the family could be a factor in their conscientious demeanor: Even if they’re not putting the baby to bed and cooking dinner, little things like helping tie shoes and finding lost blankets can give older children a dose of responsibility that the youngest members of their families might not experience.
Eldest children’s helper tendency also lends itself to greater obedience, better organizational skills, and an eagerness to please. It’s not unusual for firstborns to be extraordinarily driven and hardworking as students and adults.
Family firstborns are commonly known to excel academically. Many parents admit to placing more emphasis on education at an earlier age and “pushing” their oldest child harder than they do younger siblings. Much of this likely has to do with availability, as a mother and father undoubtedly have more time (and energy) on their hands when there is only one child in the house than they do when there are two or more. And apparently, that one-on-one mommy and daddy time really pays off. A study conducted in 2007 found that oldest children score an average of about three points higher on IQ tests than their younger siblings. While there are always exceptions to any rule—we’ve all heard the Einstein story—it’s nice to know that smarts aren’t all attributed to biology and that the effort we put into educating our children really does pay off.
But older children have some less-than-perfect characteristics too. “They can be bossy, not only to their younger siblings but to other children as well,” warns Bartell. Many are also very hard on themselves and grow to be overachievers later in life. As children, some seem quite happy with their place in the family, relishing the big kid conversations with mom and dad and the extra privileges they’re allowed, while others feel a little jealous of the attention their brothers or sisters receive. A younger child is naturally going to require more attention and time from his parents, and even if an older child understands this hypothetically, it can be frustrating. A lot of firstborn children grow up to assume positions of power, putting their responsibility—and even that slight bossiness—to good use.