Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where Do You Fall In the Family Line Up?

By Jeannie Watt

Are you an overachiever? A compromiser? A wild child?
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that indicates the  age-old stereotypes concerning birth order personalities are based in fact. The oldest child is more likely to be over achieve. The youngest child is more likely to rebel.  I just wonder why it took researchers so long to make it official.

The reason I’m thinking about birth order is because the first book of my first trilogy, Too Many Cooks? has been released this month and the series is about three siblings. The oldest--the heroine of the first book--is super responsible while the youngest--the hero of the last book--is a laid back renegade. I didn’t set out to make them that way, but that’s how they turned out. I unconsciously gave them characteristics I’ve observed in oldest and youngest children. 

Since writing the books, I did a lot of reading about birth order (many people would do it the other way around, but not me) and discovered that because they are older and stronger, the first born tend to  use high power tactics—i.e. they overpower their younger siblings, physically or through sheer strength of will and intimidation tactics. Middle and younger children use low power tactics—humor and negotiation. This is why the eldest children are not always at the top of their game in the cooperation department, whereas the younger children are quite good at reading others and acting accordingly. Youngest children can be downright manipulative.

There are, of course, other factors that figure into personality besides birth order, such as family stability and number of children, so birth order does not mean your personality and occupation are predestined.

Take for instance my brother and me. I am an artist and a storyteller. I studied geology at a time when there were no jobs available and therefore didn’t get a job as a geologist—not one that lasted anyway. My brother is an engineer and has an actual retirement fund. He’s the youngest. I’m the oldest, but it seems like it should be the other way around considering our lives and occupations. I am an overachiever, however, and he did quit his job briefly to go into business with the man who invented the plastic hubcap—but that’s another story.

Here are some general birth order characteristics I gleaned from various sources:
Responsible first born children do not
get accidentally pregnant...

Oldest child
Responsible
Over achiever
Tend to develop type A personalities
Intense fear of failure
Inflexible
Tend to stick to the straight and narrow (fear of failure)
Higher IQs
Stronger
Many engineers, lawyers, surgeons and CEOs tend to be older children. Congress has a disproportionate amount of older children.



Middle children cooperate
with others...until
they find out they're being
lied to..


Middle Child
Keeper of the peace
Agreeable
Negotiator
More peer oriented—forges strong bonds with friends
Less tethered to family
Excellent people skills—was both babysat and babysitter
Feels lost in shuffle
Tend to take riskier jobs than older children.





Laid back rebel
tries to teach uptight
neighbor how to loosen up,
with surprising results...
for him.

Youngest
Charming
Outgoing
Visionaries
Creative
Risk takers
Loose cannon
Rebellious but also easy going (which perfectly describes my hero in Just Desserts)
More likely to be artists, comedians, adventurers, or fire fighters.



Onlies 
Tend to have the same characteristics as the older children, since that is exactly what they are. 

Is it coincidence that the majority of my close friends (Ellen, for one) and my husband are all middle children and Undercover Cook, the middle book of my trilogy, is my favorite by a wee margin? What can I say? I’m a sucker for middlers. Especially alpha middlers--like Ellen.

My question d’jour: does your personality match your birth order? How about the rest of your family?

Up for grabs is a copy of Undercover Cook. If you’d like to test out a chapter, I have the first chapter of Undercover Cook posted on my blog

Looking forward to hearing from you!

37 comments:

Tammy Yenalavitch said...

I grew up as the oldest and I have some of those qualities, but I had an older sister who died before I was born, so I was also the middle child and I have some of those qualities as well. My husband is the youngest of 5 and the youngest fits him to a T. Birth order is very interesting.

Rogenna Brewer said...

I'm an oldest. Hmm...

chey said...

I'm an oldest.

Kristina Mathews said...

Jeannie,
I just finished THE BABY TRUCE. Loved it. I especially loved that it was set in Reno and had no casinos or showgirls or trips to that little "ranch" outside of town. I do remember several food fesitvals and can see them playing out in the next books.

My oldest son does have some of the characteristics of a first born(except the over-achiever, darn) and my youngest son is definately charming and creative.

I'm an only child and I'd say I am more like a first born than anything else. My youngest-born husband doesn't quite fit, maybe it's because he's 7 years younger than his brothers so has some only child tendencies as well.

Can't wait to read the next two books in the series. Especially since it makes me feel a little nostalgic for my Reno days.

Sonya said...

Wow that’s the complete opposite for my family and both my parents’ families.

I’m the oldest and have always been shy to a ridiculous point. My younger brother is the family bully – and proud of it!

My mother and her sisters are each one of the three sibling types described, but they’re in a completely different order. The middle sister is most certainly NOT the peacekeeper in the family!

I think all this stuff about birth order is similar to horoscopes – people see themselves in descriptions when they want to see it.

Laura Russell said...

Hi Jeannie,
Such an interesting topic. I am #2 of 6, so sort of middle, sort of older. I saved an article for the longest time titled 'Middle Children: As they grow rarer, society will miss them.'
#4 in my family is the classic middle. #s 5 & 6 are both rebels.

marybelle said...

I am a middle child. I actually don't match the character traits given. Maybe I just don't see them in myself. Others might.

Na said...

I am the youngest and I think a cahrming, creative, loose cannon sums it up nicely :)

Mary Brady said...

Jeannie, LOL great post. I knew my siblings and me were a bunch a misfits. I wonder if the influence of sheer numbers skews the stats a bit. I'm fourth of nine and I don't so much as keep peace as hammer it into place.

Jeannie Watt said...

Hi Tammy--I agree. Birth order is fascinating. I would think that the youngest of 5 would have a lot of the youngest child characteristics being the last baby of many. Sorry to hear about your older sister.

Rogenna and Chey--are you responsible, driven over achievers? Or the exceptions that prove the rule?

Kristina--I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I enjoyed using Reno as a setting. Like you, I don't necessarily think of casinos and nearby "ranches" as defining the place. As to your husband, seven years would practically make him a new oldest, only with more experienced parents, lol.

Sonya--Interesting about your family's characteristics. I also read that middle and youngest children can be masters of provocation in order to get attention. That must be what's playing out there. I've also known several shy oldest children--like my daughter. I think it's because they didn't have to vie for attention when they were young and don't feel comfortable doing it later.

Hi Laura--Interesting about middle children being "phased out". I love middle children and I would miss them

Marybelle--One of the articles I read mentioned that there are definitely other factors involved, but you're right that others may see traits we miss.

Na--Love it!

Mary--Interesting that you should ask if numbers skew things. Yes. There is this phenomena where the risk taking, etc, flips back and forth in larger family. First child responsible. Second child riskier. Third child more responsible, fourth child riskier, etc. That could account for you being the hammer, lol!

I'm really enjoying the conversation. Keep those comments coming. I'll be silent a bit during class, but will pop in during breaks and lunch to see what's shaking.

JV said...

I'm the works in a drawer: an only. I don't consider myself inflexible, nor am I a Type A personality (except under certain circumstances), but the other traits of a first-born or only fit me pretty well. Typically, like my father (who was the oldest in his family), I am pretty mellow -- not a typical first-born or only trait. I don't like to fail (which probably explains why I was desperate to drop out of ballet lessons back in elementary school).

My daughter is also an only, and she is definitely a Type A personality and a bit of a control freak, only since she had no siblings to control, she spent her time trying to control Mom and Dad. She is an overachiever (National Merit Scholar, straight "A"s from grade school right through college), fears failure dreadfully, is responsible (for the most part), and has a very strong will. While many of these characteristics can be attributed to her "only" status, she got a lot of it genetically from my mother, who was the youngest of nine children. She is uber Type A, responsible, and strong-willed.

My hubby is the baby of his family of 4 siblings (5 actually, but the oldest was out of the house and estranged from the family before he was born), but I only see a few of the "youngest" traits in him. He's pretty mellow, but he's not as gregarious as most "youngests" seem to be. Don't get me wrong; he's very friendly. He just doesn't seek out either the limelight or others. I'm definitely the social secretary of the family.

JV said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JV said...

I agree that not all people will exhibit all, or even most, of the "typical" characteristics that go along with their birth order, but as Mary said, other factors (gender, family dynamics, cultural/ethnic norms, and simple genetic personality traits) play a role in molding those traits, too. Still, unlike horoscopes, the traits as a general guideline just make sense to me.

I think everyone agrees that parents tend to be far more anal with a first child, sterilizing bottles and pacifiers, keeping to schedules (or trying to), and trying to follow whatever models of the ideal parent they have in their heads. By the time child 2 or 3 comes along, they frequently pick a pacifier up off the floor, wipe it on their pants, and hand it back to the child. Very different.

Plus, going back centuries, parents have put expectations on the oldest child (especially if that oldest child is a son) that they may or may not put on the subsequent children. I mean, look at monarchies, where all the pressure is on the oldest son while the younger children are treated more like children or, worse yet, "spares" (the old "heir and a spare" mentality).

It makes sense that those kids would develop the fear of failure, the drive typical of Type A personalities, responsibility, etc. William and Harry are pretty good examples of the first born and youngest traits.

Subsequent children never have the opportunity to bask in their parents' undivided attention simply because there has always been another child around whose needs also need to be met since they were born. For middle children in particular, they really need to learn patience because eventually their time as the neediest member of the family (the "baby") ends, so they're caught between the needs of the older child and the younger one. I can see how that situation would develop peacekeeper traits and why they'd often feel overlooked, with attention going to the oldest as the role model and to the baby because it's the youngest and neediest.

So, while you can't use birth order as a strict determinant of personality, I can easily see how birth order can act to shape personality.

alinaduffer said...

Hi Jeannie! I think some of these fit my siblings and I but not all. There are five of us. My oldest sister is the responsible one, so that one fits. My Second and Third sisters are both the rebels and trouble makers. My poor parents had two of those back to back. I dont know why they had more kids after them, lol. My brother is more of a loner. Then me I'm the baby. I'm the peace keeper and the creative one in the family. So yeah some of those fit us, but not all.

Have a wonderful day!

EllenToo said...

My family doesn't fit the profile at all but it could be because traits change when you take account of the whether the children are male or female.
I am the only girl and am a second child and I tend to have the older child traits mixed with younger child traits.

Don't enter me in the drawing as I already have Undercover Cook.

Liz Talley said...

We absolutely match the birth order. I'm the oldest with two younger brothers, and though I've always been creative, I've never been "out there." Let's see if I fit - I'm the president of my chapter, was a teacher (I'm the boss!), high achiever (I won't reveal my GPA),okay...I could go on and on, but I fit oldest to a "T." I'd like to think I'm flexible, but I'm kinda not. LOL.

My brother's seem to fit also :)

Kathy Altman said...

Fascinating stuff, Jeannie! Thank you for the handy-dandy reference! :-) There are four of us and we *sort of* line up with the findings--the two middle kids are definitely peacekeepers. LOL, Mary Brady, at "I don't so much as keep peace as hammer it into place." Jeannie, I also already have your book--I haven't managed to read it yet, but I do have it! :-)

Anne MacFarlane said...

Interesting post and it makes a lot of sense. But I'm a middle and don't think I match the list. Maybe other influences?

Cathryn Parry said...

Yup, we fit the model in my family--an oldest, 2 middle, and a youngest. I (an oldest) also married an oldest, and my youngest brother married a youngest. Those dynamics are interesting, too. :)

Rula Sinara said...

Hey Jeannie! I'm a middle child :)

Every time I read about birth order psychology/personalities, I'm amazed at how well my siblings and I, as well as my three boys, fit the desriptions. Of course, there can be slight variations. Behavioral genetics, environmental/social influences, and astrology (if you believe in it...I like to think the pisces in me helps my writing ;))can all factor in, but for the most part, I see birth order come into play with all the families I know. Super interesting, and I love that your characters fit in with it all!

Don't worry about the drawing. You know I always have your books :)

Jeannie Watt said...

JV--Great commentary! I read about parenting habits of birds and mammals, who have more offspring than they can care for in case something happens to one of the older babies. If so, they have a spare. If not, then the spare is expendable. Kind of like Wilbur in Charlotte's Webb. The thing about middle kids is that they do eventually get to be the oldest, which brings more responsibility, but they may not remember the attention they got being the youngest.

Jeannie Watt said...

Hi Alina--Two middle children rebels and the youngest a peacekeeper. Yes, that does step slightly out of the box. Interesting...

Jeannie Watt said...

Hi Ellen Too--Yes, when you add gender in, it can change the equation. They are finding, though, that now that gender roles in society and in employment are equalling out, that there isn't as much difference caused by gender. I used to control my little brother, even though I was a girl. The family said he never got to speak for himself until I went to school.

Jeannie Watt said...

Oop--gotta hurry--kids about to come in from lunch. :-D

Liz--Two younger brothers? Lucky you. Did they ever plot against you?

Kathy--So glad you have the book. Hope you enjoy it!

Anne--It could definitely be other influences. There are so many factors in our lives.

Cathryn--I wonder how many people marry people in their same birth order? I love being married to a middle, although I'm the peacekeeper, not him, lol. He's a wee bit cantankerous at times. I think it's from defending his spot in the family.

Rula--I was a bit surprised at how well my characters fit the mold, so to speak. It wasn't until the books were turned in that I started thinking about it. You have three boys? How wonderful!

Kaelee said...

I'm the 3rd child of 4. My sister who is 7 years older than me and my brother who is 6 years and a few months older than me were both over achievers and exhibit many of the traits of the first born. My youngest brother came along 4 years later and he does have some of the traits of the baby of the family. I think I have some of the traits of the middle child. For years family parties were held at my place so that my sister in law and brother in law who did not get along would have neutral territory to meet on. Also my husband and didn't have kids so having 9 kids visit for the day was lots of fun.

When I think of my brother's 4 kids and my sister's 5 kids, I can see some of the traits do apply as well. Environment and gender do play roles in our development as well.

My younger brother and I were much more impacted with my dad's nervous breakdown than my older siblings who were already in university.

One of my cousins who was the baby in her family was 11 years old when her mother died of breast cancer. In those days kids did not visit hospitals and her misguided father did not allow her to go to the funeral. Years later she told me that she could never believe her mom was dead. She does not fit the youngest role at all. I think this event changed her a lot.

Life happens and if we are fortunate enough we can adapt to whatever is thrown our way.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Jeannie,

Glad you like us middle children so much! :-)

My family fits some of the birth order dynamics. We also have one of those big gaps (my brother is 15 months older than me and my sister is 6 years younger). I think spacing does make a difference.

NPR ran a story called, "The Secret Perks of Being a Middle Child." One of the BEST quotes in it was about results from a survey about birth order.

Quote: Middleborns were the only birth order, however, that did not have the word "spoiled" as a descriptor.

I do love when science backs up things I've been telling my brother and sister since I was eight. ;-)

Karina Bliss said...

Interesting subject...as both the oldest of five and a Virgo though, the word perfectionist sends a shudder down my spine. Then I sigh.
Why can't I get a fun category for once!
Karina

Snookie said...

I am the oldest of 6 and the only thing that fits me is responsible. My brother is 13 months younger, my second brother is 5 yrs younger and my third brother is 7 1/2 yrs younger than me. My sister is 13 1/2 yrs younger and my second sister is 14 1/2 yrs younger than me. All of us are responsible, none of us are overachievers. I'm the rebel in that I was in the protest marches of the 70s. I am the most liberal thinker of all of them.

Snookie said...

Oh yea, if anyone could be considered a peacemaker in our family it would be me!

Joan Kilby said...

Interesting topic, Jeannie! I'm a third child but the youngest daughter so I identify with some middle and some youngest child traits. With my kids, my oldest is so out of the box, marches-to-the-beat-of-his-own- drum that he doesn't have any of the characteristics of the first child. Instead his sister took on an A type personality, along with the peacekeeping nature of the middle child. My youngest, a son, definitely has many of the third child traits. It's fascinating.

Jane said...

I'm the youngest and do like to think I'm charming, but I guess I get away with much more than my brother.

Anonymous said...

I'm the baby of my fam. But I'm not reckless. I am responsible (I was told this by my stepmom when she said my oldest sister wasn't!)

Great post.

Marcie

Jeannie Watt said...

Kaelee--It's a brave woman that encourages visits from nine children at a time. The kids must have loved it. So sad about your cousin not getting closure after her mother passed away. I understand what the dad was trying to do, but sad.

Ellen--What an excellent quote! I do think gaps make a difference. More than that, I think parental exhaustion plays a role. You have more attention to give a child when the older ones can take care of themselves. Probably where a person is in their career matters, too. If you're working 80 hour weeks, there may not be much time for nurturing. Hmmm.

Oh, Karina--Your post made me smile.

Snookie--Interesting about you also being the peacemaker (and also about the protest marches!) I do not like conflict, unless I instigate that conflict and then I'm totally in favor. But in general, I want smooth waters.

Joan--So you have a right brained first born. That has to play into the equation, too, I would imagine. And I love the idea of a Type A peacekeeper...

Jane--I'm positive that you're charming :)

Marcie--I would have guessed from the eharl posts that you were the oldest--organized and responsible. Interesting.

Linda Warren said...

Jeannie,
This is fun. I'm the third of four and the only girl. I'm the peacemaker for sure.

Virginia said...

Not sure where I fall, I was the youngest child for ten years then another sister came along and I became a middle child and I really thing I am a mixture of both middle and youngest.

Kristi Lea said...

I'm 2nd of 5 girls. We are a confusing bunch when you look at birth order vs personality.

My older sister is not quite the type A, typical oldest child. She would hate for me to say this, but I think she was Mom's baby, so she got coddled and supported a bit more than most of the rest of us seemed to, which affected her life choices as well.

I'm #2, so both an older and a middle child. I am definitely a blend of both. I am the family peacekeeper and the only one who is always on speaking terms with everyone else :)

#3 is a middle child. Pure middle. Anyway you slice it.

#4 was the youngest for 12 years before #5 came along. By then, #1 and #2 had left for college and #3 wasn't far behind. So #4 is both youngest child and oldest child.

#5 shows tendencies of both the youngest sibling, and of an only child as #4 had left for college before she started Kindergarten.

JV said...

I have done some reading about birth order, and most of the literature indicates that if there are 5 or more years between siblings, then each may take on more of the characteristics of a first-born or only because they are likely to get more parental attention, etc., since their siblings are a bit more self-sufficient.

So, it makes sense for some who've talked about gaps of several years in the family line-up that the children born after a large time gap would demonstrate mixed "types".

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