Older Siblings Smarter, Younger Siblings Work Harder

In a family with multiple children, the younger kids are often driven by a desire to catch up to the older ones.  Not being the first to do anything can light a fire of competitiveness in a kid who feels like she’s always one step behind.  And this competitiveness, say researchers, is the reason that younger siblings work harder in school and ultimately earn better grades.

Researchers at Adelphi University in New York asked 90 teenage sibling pairs from a diverse, suburban New York high school to answer questions about themselves and their brother or sister’s work ethic, intelligence and academic performance.  In addition to examining the results of the questionnaires, they also took into account the subject’s test scores and grade points averages.

While both siblings believed that they themselves were the most naturally gifted of the pair, the data revealed that the older siblings tended to score higher on aptitude tests.   But that innate ability was often outshone by the efforts of their younger siblings, whose hard work more than made up the difference, earning them higher grade point averages than the firstborn siblings.

Another experiment found that younger siblings were more outgoing, sentimental, forgiving and open to new experiences than their older siblings.

Doctoral candidate Tiffany Frank says she was driven to pursue this research as a result of her own family dynamics.  She says that as the youngest girl in her family, she always felt just a little less smart than her older sister.

As the youngest child in my family, I can relate to all these findings.  However, while I may have been an over-achieving little brat in the eyes of my older siblings, I likely would not have fared as well without their influence.  As the researchers suggest, my older siblings set good examples for me.  They mentored me and by going first, showed me what not to do.   So, thanks for that!   And sorry about all that gloating.

Image: Ken WilcoxFlickr

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