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Second-Born Children Are Troublemakers, Study Shows

By Orgesta Tolaj


3 December 2023

second-born kids

© Austin Pacheco / Unsplash

We all have heard the saying “Second-born children are so spoiled!” or “I practically raised my younger sibling as a first-born!“. But, how true is it really? Well, a recent study is here to prove that older siblings really had it harder. And that is proven by the troublesome behaviors younger siblings show. So, are you ready to show your siblings that you were right all along?

Are Second-Born Children Realy Troublemakers?

A study by MIT economist Joseph Doyle supports the belief that second-born children, particularly boys, are more prone to rebellious behavior. The research indicates that compared to their older siblings, second-born children are more likely to face issues such as imprisonment, school suspension, and juvenile delinquency. The study findings suggest a correlation between birth order and a higher likelihood of troublesome behavior among second-borns.

How the Study Found Out That Second-Born Kids Are Troublemakers

In his study, Professor Joseph Doyle analyzed datasets from families in both Denmark and Florida. He aimed to understand the potential impact of birth order on various life outcomes. Despite substantial differences in geographic location and environmental factors between the two regions, Doyle discovered “remarkably consistent results.”

second-born kids
© Chayene Rafaela / Unsplash

The key finding revealed that in families with two or more children, second-born boys faced a 20 to 40 percent higher likelihood of being disciplined in school and entering the criminal justice system. This was compared to their first-born counterparts, even when considering siblings.

Importantly, the data allowed for an examination of potential mechanisms. It eliminated differences in health at birth and the quality of schools chosen for children as significant contributing factors.

Why Are Second-Born Kids Troublemakers?

Doyle went on to explain that a significant portion of these disparities could be attributed to the fact that parents tend to spend slightly more time on their first-born children than on subsequent siblings. This insight provides a nuanced perspective on the role of birth order in shaping individuals’ experiences within the education system and the criminal justice system.

Second-born kids
© Edward Cisneros / Unsplash

Doyle’s study also revealed that parental time investment, measured by time out of the labor force, tends to be higher for first-borns during the ages of 2-4. This suggests that the birth of a second child extends early-childhood parental investments for the first-born.

However, the study emphasizes that being a second child doesn’t necessarily dictate one’s destiny. Individuals still have free will, and perhaps, with a touch of humor, second-borns can use science to playfully blame their older siblings for any perceived misbehavior.

Other Studies on Second-Born Children

The Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler was the first to propose that birth order affects personality. He suggested that firstborns, having been “dethroned” by the arrival of a second child, may be permanently influenced. Despite becoming a contentious issue in psychology since Adler’s time, the public often believes in the strong impact of birth order on personality. However, psychologists dispute this notion, highlighting the challenges in empirically proving such a connection. Practical experience suggests a role for birth order in character development. However, the difficulty lies in precisely treating each child the same and having them take identical roles within the family.

So, Why Is It Different With Second-Born Children?

By the time their second baby arrives, most parents have gained confidence in their parenting roles. They shed much of the initial caution and fear experienced with their firstborn. Consequently, parents may be more lenient with their younger child, potentially not closely monitoring every move or milestone as they did with their older kids. Seeking attention that they might perceive as lacking, second-born children quickly learn to captivate others with charm and likability.

Second-born children often enjoy more freedom compared to their siblings, fostering independence. They may share common traits with their eldest sibling, both having experienced a sense of being special and entitled.

How This Freedom Affects Their Career Choices

Notably, second-born children frequently pursue careers in the entertainment industry, such as actors, comedians, writers, directors, or excel as teachers. The more relaxed and lenient parenting style by the time the second child arrives allows for creative freedom and a personalized path. As the younger sibling, they typically bear less responsibility, attracting fewer experiences that demand responsibility.

Can Birth Order Affect Success in Life?

Nearly fifty years ago, economists like Gary Becker, H. Gregg Lewis, and Nigel Tomes developed models examining the trade-offs between child quality and quantity in child-rearing. Their aim was to understand the observed negative correlation between family income and family size.

The hypothesis was that, if child quality is considered a normal good, rising income prompts families to prioritize higher-quality children at the expense of having a smaller family size.

Second-born kids
© Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

A new study wanted to hop on the research. The study utilized standardized cognitive tests administered to Norwegian men aged 18 to 20 during military enlistment to measure IQ. Contrary to previous literature but consistent with earlier findings on educational attainment, the research identified significant birth order effects on IQ within families. Specifically, later-born children exhibited lower average IQs, with notable differences. For instance, the average IQ difference between firstborn and second-born individuals was approximately one-fifth of a standard deviation, equivalent to about three IQ points.

What About Health?

The relationship between birth order and health proved complex, with firstborns exhibiting better outcomes in certain dimensions and worse outcomes in others. Notably, the probability of high blood pressure decreases with birth order, with the most significant gap observed between first- and second-borns. Second-borns are around 3 percent less likely to have high blood pressure compared to first-borns, and this difference increases to 7 percent for fifth-borns. Given a population with 24 percent having high blood pressure, these variances are substantial.

On the other hand, firstborns are more likely to be overweight and obese. In comparison to second-borns, firstborns are 4 percent more likely to be overweight and 2 percent more likely to be obese.

Can Personalities Also Be Affected?

We know that second-born kids are more troublesome. However, what about other non-cognitive skills?

The study used administrative datasets to investigate the relationship between birth order and personality traits. In the economic literature, personality traits are often referred to as non-cognitive abilities, distinct from intelligence. To measure personality or non-cognitive skills, the study uses outcomes from a standardized psychological evaluation conducted by certified psychologists on all Swedish men aged 18 to 20 during military enlistment. This evaluation, strongly linked to labor market success, assesses traits such as emotional stability, persistence, social outgoingness, willingness to assume responsibility, and the ability to take initiative.

siblings behave differently in same situations
© Caroline Hernandez / Unsplash

The findings showed consistently lower scores in these non-cognitive abilities for later-born children. Second-born children are exhibiting traits 0.2 standard deviations below firstborns. Notably, boys with older brothers show almost twice the decline in these personality characteristics compared to boys with older sisters.

But, Why Are First-Born and Second-Born Children So Different?

Various factors from different academic disciplines offer potential explanations for how birth order may influence adult outcomes. Biologically, changes in the womb environment or the maternal immune system over successive births are considered. Additionally, parental influences play a crucial role, particularly in the early years of a child’s life for skill formation.

Firstborns, receiving full parental attention, may benefit, but as families grow, resources become scarcer, and the family environment dilutes. However, parents tend to be more experienced and have higher incomes when raising later-born children.

What about you? Do you have any younger siblings that fit the description from the studies? Let us know down below!

You might also want to read: Children Spend Around 4.5 Hours Per Day on Their Phones

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!