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Are lastborns creative risk-takers? Are firstborns smarter? What’s the deal with birth order?


Lastborns are more open to new ideas, more likely to come up with new scientific theories and more likely to be innovators:

Via The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature:

Generally speaking, lastborns tend to score higher on openness to new experiences and ideas, given the fact that they’ve had to think outside the box in uniquely positioning themselves within a smaller set of available niches.

Sulloway tested his theory by investigating the birth order of individuals who had founded or supported 28 radical scientific innovations versus those who were the most vehement detractors of such novel ideas. In 23 of the 28 cases, laterborns were indeed the driving engines of the radically new scientific theories. When I lecture about this theory, I inform the audience that I am the lastborn of four children, which provides a partial explanation for my iconoclastic research. Risk taking need not be restricted to scientific revolutions, however. Younger siblings are more likely to partake in various forms of athletic risk taking (e.g., participating in perilous sports and base stealing in baseball). How might Sulloway’s theory be put to the test within the consumer setting? Consumer conformity is a strong driver across many product categories (e.g., when following fashion trends), whereas the early adoption of product innovations demonstrates a capacity to be open to new ideas and experiences. Tripat Gill, Rajan Nataraajan, and I demonstrated that laterborns scored higher on a product innovation scale and firstborns scored higher (marginally so) on a conformity scale. In so doing, we validated the veracity of Sulloway’s theory in the consumer realm.

Major League baseball players who are younger brothers steal more bases:

Consistent with their greater expected propensity for risk taking, younger brothers were 10.6 times more likely to attempt the high-risk activity of base stealing and 3.2 times more likely to steal bases successfully (odds ratios).

Why is this the case?

To compensate for the lack of parental attention, the youngest child may develop certain personality traits — like humor, spontaneity, or gregariousness — to shift the spotlight onto themselves, Sulloway told me. They also tend to take more risks, since they have less to lose.

Firstborns are smarter:

 The verbal ability of first-borns is about one-tenth of a SD higher than for children in the middle of the birth order. There is no evidence that last-borns fare better than intermediate children. The first-born advantage is confirmed by estimates from within-family variation models and I argue that the findings are consistent with the resource dilution hypothesis.

Firstborns are more likely to go to Harvard and more likely to focus on mastery goals (becoming an expert) rather than performance goals (outdoing others):

we consistently found that firstborns have developed a preference for mastery goals (which are based on self-referenced standards of competence), whereas secondborns have developed a preference for performance goals (which are based on other-referenced standards of competence).

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Related posts:

How do siblings shape your personality?

Is your brother smart? Then you might be crazy.

Are only children missing out?


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