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Birth Order Just Doesn't Matter … Much

siblings, personality type

Typical, typical, typical

I’ve always been reluctant to accept the idea that birth order matters much. Who can blame me? I’m the little sister.

We youngest are always described as ne’er-do-well artistic types who are more inclined to sign up to bring brownies than run the whole bake sale. We youngest, so the birth order dogma goes, fall into jobs — jobs like blogging — rather than walking the straight-and-narrow toward math-heavy, analytical careers like engineering. I mean, technically, that describes me and my sib faaaaaairly accurately but see what I mean? I come out the adorable loser!

The only person worse off than a family’s youngest is that forgotten, lost, emotionally volatile middle-child. Now THERE’S a birth order ranking that’s got nothing good to offer.

Basically, in birth order discussions, the oldest get all the glory (probably because most scientists are eldest children or something). So I loved what the experts had to say in today’s NPR birth order story, a part of their fascinating series on siblings.

“The one thing you can say about birth order is that it’s not absolutely deterministic of how people’s lives turn out,” says Sulloway.

Experts say it’s just one small piece of the puzzle.

“I’m not sure I would say that birth order plays a strong role in who we become,” [psychologist Richard] Zweigenhaft [of Guildford College] says. “Birth order contributes to who we become.”

After all, we’re all amalgams of many childhood influences, from teachers and peers to random life events, including turns of good luck and bad.

Well, exactly.

Of course that kind of reassurance doesn’t come until the end. You know, the devastating number of elected representatives who are firstborns. And the crap about the firstborn getting all of a parent’s attention and the entire mommy-and-me classes budget for however many years until the testy middle/head-in-the-clouds youngest comes along.

But that birth order thing, to me, is just like horoscopes: the predictions match up only after the fact when you can conveniently forget about other matters like the babysitter that called the youngest a dumb-dumb (that’ll steer a girl away from math for awhile) and the middle child inherited not only the mother-in-law’s long legs but her bouts of melancholy. Could have happened to any of them!

Do you fit the typical birth order profile? What about your kids? Does some of the birth order received wisdom come to mind now that you’ve got kids?

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Photo: Ann via Picasa Web

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