Thursday, May 22, 2008

Birth Order of Children

"A recent study by BYU economist Joseph Price would surprise parents committed to treating their children equally. It shows that firstborns get far more quality time with parents than their siblings." Click here to view the story on NBC Today Show. (

I don't, in particular, want to argue with the findings of the study, but it did seem a bit negative. It seemed to me that the firstborn is the luckiest, and everyone else isn't. That's how it came across to me.

Granted, all I've seen is what they showed on the Today Show on NBC. I didn't read the entire study. However, I didn't like what the research seemed to be implying, so I've come up with my own idea of what I think about the birth order of children.

I feel the study failed to take into account a very important factor--the gender of those children. In considering gender, if the first-born is a son, I would hypothesize that he would be pushed more toward independence and leadership than a daughter. If the first-born is a daughter, perhaps she would be coddled more while she is young and expected to help out the mother more with the other children as she gets older. I think that would be interesting to study--the gender of the children in relation to birth order.

What about families who have more of one gender than another? If they have four girls and then a boy, I think it would be possible that the boy would be pushed more toward high success careers than a fifth girl might. Is it possible that because I was the only girl in my family that my parents' expectations of me were different? I feel confident that I spent more quality one-on-one time with my dad than any of my brothers did simply because I was the only girl (you know, "daddy's little girl"). I know my brothers spent time with my dad, but I don't think they spent as much quality one-on-one time as I did, yet I'm not the oldest, just the only girl.

What about spacing? Consider three kids who are all male, where there is five years between the first two and 13 years between the younger two. Don't you think parents are more likely to be able to spend more quality time with each individually than parents who have four kids in 5 years (spacing: 17 months between first two, 23 months between next two, and 14 months between last two)? Those four kids are more likely to spend a lot less time one-on-one with parents because the demands for a parent's divided attention is so great.

Is it even bad if the oldest gets more quality time with the parents than the others? Perhaps Heavenly Father considered this and sent each child down in the order He did for a reason. Perhaps the spirit who is the oldest needed to be the oldest and the others all had their special place too. What about twins who are the oldest? Or elsewhere in the birth order? What does the study say or suggest about those relationships?

It didn't seem to say in the study whether it was positive or negative that parents spend more quality time with the first-born. I'd have to also ask if those 3,000 hours included the time in the child's life when he or she had no younger siblings? Of course there would be greater time spent one-on-one with the parents during that period of time because there are no other children! I mean, say a parent spends 8 hours a day times 365 days during the first year of the oldest child's life solely with that child, that equals 2,920 hours in just that one year. If the oldest is only 1 year older than the next, that is almost 3,000 hours right there!

The point I'm trying to make is that there are so many factors, I think it would be hard to really come up with a conclusive study about birth order. Gender matters, spacing matters, the number of children matter. Did the study just incorporate two-parent homes where the primary caregiver is the mother (I assume this since he is from BYU), or did it also include single parent homes? Not to mention that what one person may consider quality time, others may not consider it to be so. For example, many men feel that watching TV with their kids is quality time--I tend to disagree. All in all, I'd really like to read the entire study to see if any of these other factors were weighed, and if they weren't, I wouldn't call it a very thorough or fair study.


swedemom said...

Just one quick comment, I don't think a boy would necessarily be pushed to be more of a leader than a first born girl. Most studies show that the first-born girl is very goal-oriented, extremely intelligent and successful in school.
A lot of characteristics of birth order seem to apply to both genders.

But I need to read more. This was really interesting and I liked your dissection of the study and your questions.

royalbird said...

You're right that a first-born girl is all those things, but I still think that parents tend to treat boys and girls differently. It's clear to me that parents tend to have higher expectations of first-born children, boys or girls, if simply for the matter that they can rely on them to help with younger siblings. The study discussed talks in terms of success being measured by the high-paying CEO-type jobs, when, in fact, most of the first-born women I know grew up to be mothers. So in those terms, they weren't any more successful than their younger sisters, and less successful than the younger brothers because those younger brothers have jobs that pay.

In studies like these, the only fair way to determine results and compare them is to start with families in the same situation--with the same numbers of kids, the same genders at those ages, the same years of separation between them, and the same family dynamics (mother stays home or both parents work, socioeconomic status, etc.). Otherwise you're comparing apples to oranges.

Of course my SIL who has a daughter that is 5 and a daughter that is 5 months paid WAY more attention to the older girl than I was able to do with Westley, who was only 17 months when Caleb was born and is now the oldest of four, not two.

Westley also has WAY more responsibilities than that particular cousin because he was required to help me out more from a younger age than she was with her mom, even though they are only three days apart in age. Westley can feed and burp the baby, whereas I don't think his cousin of the same age with a baby sister the same age as Westley's sister, is even allowed to do those things.

I'd like to read more, if only to determine the control groups used and see what exactly they were comparing. If they weren't the same, than the study seems flawed, in my opinion.

royalbird said...

I was re-reading the comments, and I realized that my opinion about the gender thing probably relates to the comparison between Westley and his cousin. They are only 3 days apart, and it seems to me that his cousin, who was the only child for 4-1/2 years, was babied way more than I ever babied Westley--he was required to be my helper from the time Caleb was born, and by the time Travis was born, was helping give bottles and spoon feed solid food to the baby. So that showed me a difference between a boy and a girl, but if that cousin had a younger sibling earlier than she did, maybe she would have also had more responsibilities. Another example of the flaws in the study--you can't compare an oldest child who's next siblings is 4 years younger to one whose next sibling is only 17 months younger. The expectations from the parents are simply different in those situations, regardless of gender.

Devin & Ruthann said...

I just wanted to tell you I love reading your blog. It's fun to read another woman's opinions and find they are so similar to mine. :)

swedemom said...

In rereading my original comment, I realize that I made an error. Are boys and girls treated and raised differently? Yes. They are. Do I think they should be raised differently? Not really. (By that I mean that both boys and girls need to learn homemaking skills:cooking, cleaning, lawn car, basic car maintenance, etc., as well as important qualities to emulate: leadership, honesty, kindness, etc.)

Good points, Jenna. Gender and the way we treat boys and girls is something that fascinates me. I feel more inclined to say that age differences between siblings has more to do with how children are treated than anything.

My kids aren't as close in age as yours, but they are still pretty closely spaced (21 months, 2 years, 3 years). My oldest has a lot of responsibility placed on him because it was absolutely essential. I would have expected the same of a first-born daughter.

And, this is off topic, but I read an absolutely fascinating article that I thought might be interesting to you. You may have read it, but here is the link, just in case:

royalbird said...

You're probably right, Tiffany, about how spacing makes more of a difference than gender. But I still think gender can make a difference. I think I also get this from the fact that in my family there are 6 children, so two of us are branded with the "middle child syndrome", but because I was the only girl, the "middle child syndrome" passed me by and went straight to my brother who shared that spot with me (or so he claims). Yet, I can see where he is coming from. I can't really call myself the "middle child" because I was in no way ignored as middle children often are, and I think that's because I was the only girl. So all these factors are an influence on how children turn out, not just birth order.


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