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How Birth Order Affects Intelligence

Does Birth Order Affect Brain Power in Your Family?

A new study finds that first-born children perform better in school than their latter siblings, according to a story recently published in The Atlantic. The reason why is what may really surprise you. Economists V. Joseph Hotz and Juan Pantano say that this is a case of nurture over nature, citing the "lazy parent theory" — that by kids number two, three, and beyond, parents go easier on their children — to the extent that they don't achieve as high academically.

"The general idea here is that first-time parents, scared of messing up their new human, commit to memory the first chapter of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, but by the second or third child, they've majorly chilled out," Derek Thompson wrote in his piece for The Atlantic.

So, here's what we're wondering — does the lazy parent theory hold true in your household? Or, does your family prove the study wrong? We're guessing that there are plenty of siblings out there who both fit and dispel the theory, and we'd love for you to tell us about your family dynamic!

Join The Conversation
HollyLee HollyLee 3 years
I think this article is pretty unfair. Yes, I read more with my oldest because when my youngest was tiny, I had 2 high maintenance foster kids. When she was barely more than 1, I went back to school for nursing. I have worked part time (24-42) hours week since my son was 18 months and was only a SAHM when my daughter was newborn. Now I work 3 days a week so we can have health insurance & go to school all the other days. I have had to depend on school outside the home to teach her to write. We still managed to read together over the summer while I was picking up between 5 and 7 shifts per week. Yeah, I must be truly lazy!
maryc1363770462 maryc1363770462 3 years
I don't think its fair to call it lazy parenting! more like tired and jaded parenting. I was the youngest with 6 yrs between me and middle sister and another 12 yrs between me and oldest sister. I feel I was left more to my own devices to succeed academically and managed to do ok- got a qualification which neither of my other sisters did. Being the youngest I felt I had to be better behaved and not cause trouble as my middle sister was the troublesome one that stressed my parents a lot!
KatrinaFain KatrinaFain 3 years
In my family my sister (the middle child) did the best in school. My parents put the same lackluster effort in each of us. I think in the families where the first child does best is just a coincidence. Academics is important to me. I will take it equally serious for both of them. They are 5(kindergarten) and 1 :)
NicoleWinter11247 NicoleWinter11247 3 years
This is an interesting little tidbit, but I have to echo the thoughts of others here: it depends on the parents and it depends on the children. Their personalities mean every bit as much as the opportunities afforded to them. Some people are just destined through their brain wiring to excel, not that they cannot be taught, or that being afforded extra opportunities wouldn't do amazing things for them, but THEY are amazing already :) In response to Isabel / Shalon, my biggest issue with 3-5+ sized families, (that aren't blended,) is that, yes, it is selfish. You cannot change the fact that as a family you're consuming more than your fair share of the limited resources available in our planet. It's your choice, your decision, and honestly, none of my business. It does affect us all, however, your decision to have more children than our planet can support is selfish to those of us who've decided to quit at two. Eventually, there's going to be a backlash against parents / parenting, when people / government starts to realize how very unsustainable worldwide population is.
Isabel14435120 Isabel14435120 3 years
This is in response to ShalonSpringman. Calling a parent who has 3+ children selfish is a reflection on yourself. Just because you don't understand or can't fathom the idea of taking care of multiple children doesn't mean it isn't possible. That is like looking at a person who has overachieved in their career and accusing them of cheating just because it might not be within your own understanding or capability. I just read an article in people magazine of a family with 10 children. Their children were homeschooled and began college at the age of 12. I have a friend who is 1 of 12 children, all 12 kids have degrees and are successful. I am one of 3, 2nd born. I have a Counseling M.A. from LMU and graduated with honors. I have now CHOSEN to be a mother and expecting my 6th child. All of my children are excellent students and get one-on-one time with me and my husband. Please don't cast judgement on big families just because it isn't something that you are called to do. Hey, not everyone is meant to be a Scientist either, doesn't mean it's not possible. Good Day.
SallyBackhaus SallyBackhaus 3 years
In almost every family I know while the extra attention the oldest gets may make them crave adult approval enough to do better in school, the more "neglected" younger children are much smarter and stronger and do much better outside of school. So if hovering gets me 13 years of other grownups patting me on the back, but an "adult" who can't take care of themselves and relaxing gets me a kid who frustrates other's need for crowd control, but a self-sufficient productive member of society...bring on the laziness.
Mary15073987 Mary15073987 3 years
Much as I would like for this to not be the case, realistically, my family definitely supports the theory. I'm second of 5. Oldest child: bachelors degree from Harvard, masters from Princeton (both Ivy League universities) Second child (me): bachelors degree from Columbia (an Ivy League university) Third child: bachelors degree from Concordia collage (private college) Fourth child: associates degree from Whatcom community college and bachelors from Western (a state college) Fifth child: dropped out of community college; still intends to go back (he's 22). It is definitely NOT the case that the youngest siblings are less intelligent or capable than the oldest. I have attributed the differences in educational success to birth order for a long time. I would never say my parents "got lazy" in their parenting; however, they obviously invested less one on one time with the younger siblings. This is going to happen no matter what- the older you get, the more advanced in your career you become, and the more children you have, the less one on one time you're going to have. Period. Does personality and inherent intelligence play a role? Of course. But parenting and birth order is going to affect personality as well, and all other things considered equal, younger children are going to be pushed less in terms of academic accomplishment.
Euridice-Hollis Euridice-Hollis 3 years
I personally believe this is incorrect, I'm a mother of 6 kids and I think they all have results according to their characters! And I been reading recently that the educations system is so updated that is been design for only one type of learner, facts learners, so the others are "unable to learn". And this is the reason why we have so many learning disabilities today! Sow who is wrong parents or the system?
ShalonSpringman ShalonSpringman 3 years
It would seem that there have been a lot of comments that try to contradict this article but, actually only verify it. Funny thing is that the most vociferous opponents are the breeders with 3+ children. Please stop. Stop being selfish. You cannot possibly give as much attention to number 2,3,4,5!?!? As you can to one. And furthermore, unless you are a millionaire,your third, fourth and etc. child is going to miss out on a multitude of things. All of the most recent comments seem to come from people trying to justify being a breeder.
EstherSchletz EstherSchletz 3 years
I don't believe it has anything to do with the order the child falls in within the family, but has everything to do with their own personality. I have 3 children (20, 15 and 11). My oldest struggled a lot with the academics, but even so she completed college and is now flourishing in her PSW job. She does better with practical learning. My son is incredibly smart, but very lazy. If he'd apply himself I'm sure he'd be on the honour roll every year. My youngest daughter also struggles with the basics (especially spelling and math) yet she is the one who strives the hardest to be the best in everything.
LauraCraft LauraCraft 3 years
I am the second of 5 children. I did much better in school than the other 4. I also have more education than the others. I have a doctorate, summa cum laud. 3 of the others graduated from college. One graduated from high school. 4 of us have the identical IQ, and one has a much higher IQ than I have. The only pattern I can see is that I was the least attractive child in my family.
KatrinaBissell KatrinaBissell 3 years
I guess it's too soon to tell with my kids but my little sister is smarter or at least always did better at school and my brother the youngest got A's easily and is going to college for physics.
AndreaKennedy5690 AndreaKennedy5690 3 years
I think it's going to be reverse true for our family, mostly because our younger is around listening to the lessons that the older is learning so that information is getting soaked in a bit already so she'll be a smidge more prepared than our older was. Of course, I can't be sure about this yet as my oldest is only 5 and just started K and little sister isn't even 6mo yet.
angelastitt angelastitt 3 years
at worst, time for children has to be split, not lazy just impractical to think that a parent can spend the same amount of time on further children that they gave the first. this is like saying the 1st born gets more love...this sounds like ignorance to me...not taking on board all the factors that further children bring into the family dynamic! time is split between children...each new child means the time spent on each individually is lessened. like splitting a cake. 4 people get a quarter of a round cake, add 4 extra people and the slices of cake would have to be halved to accommodate the the extra 4! common sense should prevail here! all children are different so it makes little difference, they will develop in different stages and excel at different things, the only real thing we can influence is their emotional state, and aid in getting them educationally improved slightly faster is all we can do. this just seems to want to make parents feel like they are letting their future children doen, which is fantastic due to us never feeling like that anyway....
DeeDeeQuigg DeeDeeQuigg 3 years
Only my oldest is in school but my other 3 are pretty stinkin' smart too. Growing up all my siblings and I (6 altogether) were pushed to do our best. I don't believe my oldest siblings did markedly better than myself or my brother just older than me. In fact, I think my parents' 5th child did the best scholastically, but not by large margin.
DianaMaurer DianaMaurer 3 years
We have 2 children & while the older one does better academically & is in the gifted classes, the younger one is way more advanced socially. The younger one just doesn't particularly care for doing the work although she is every bit as smart as her sister if she would just apply herself more. It wasn't quite as easy for her either when she started Kindergarten because I believe her lisp made it more challenging for her when it came to sounding words out as she learned how to spell. Once her big girl teeth came in though, the lisp went away & she really started to grasp the reading thing. (I read to her every night before bed from the time she was a baby.) That being said they both get excellent grades so if the younger one preferred studying to socializing, she would be in gifted classes too. It is certainly not from lack of trying on our parts as parents because her dad came home every day when she was in elementary school and sat with her going through her homework with her. On the other hand the older one has a much more difficult time understanding social dynamics so making friends is more challenging for her and she is a bit on the shy side. My younger one is brilliant when it comes to solving social problems...a regular 11-yr-old Dear Abby. She has an understanding that few adults have.
ChetMC ChetMC 3 years
I wish these stories were a little more balanced. All of the extra focus and attention first borns are at greater odds of receiving can be a double edged sword. It can bring a lot of pressure and stress too, and doing well to please parents doesn't necessarily bring fulfilment. Last-borns tend toward being the happiness and most free thinking child in the family. There was a study pretty recently that found birth order correlates with number of sexual partners. Supposedly, the higher the birth order the greater the number of partners.
ChetMC ChetMC 3 years
So far, this doesn't hold for our family. All of our children are extremely bright, academically strong and pretty much born to go to school. Our oldest child does exhibit many of the traditional characteristics of oldest children, but our second was a proficient reader when she was 2.5.
ShelehiaMeisner ShelehiaMeisner 3 years
Of my three children it is my middle child, the girl, who excels. Though all three score in the Advanced category on the state tests.
SandyStandish SandyStandish 3 years
Not true, my first born son who is in college struggles to get good grades. He didn't talk until he was 3, he didn't crawl until he was 18 months, he walked at 2, he read his first book at 7..I made sure I read to him every night and I pushed ABC's and 123's he didn't care less..although he is smart and a take charge kind of guy, he is not a high achiever. My third born girl who is 9 was actually tested to be in a gifted program. I have an 8 yr old girl and another son who is in college, again they are smart but they much prefer being social..
LisaPadgett LisaPadgett 3 years
I have two boys...ages 3 and 5! My oldest was putting sentences together and having conversations at the age of 1. He is crazy intelligent and understands a lot more than I ever though a child would know at such a young age. On the other hand, he lacks creativity! He looks towards his younger brother for that creative spark. My youngest can find anything and create something out of it. He is constantly looking for new things to explore and get his hands on. And whenever there is a technical issue, he goes to his older brother and they help each other figure it out! Each child has their strengths and their weaknesses naturally. It is how you nurture both, their strength and their weakness, to make a well rounded child!
RivkaMorowitz1371642774 RivkaMorowitz1371642774 3 years
Actually my 5th child is the high achiever. But he feels neglected because he doesn't need as much coaching as the rest. My 3rd child we took him to a therapist to get his motivation to learn back. My 2nd goes to a learning strategy evening school. My 4th lost his motivation and we are working hard to find it. My 6th we took him out of a 34 children pre K. Noe he is in a 9 children pre k and doing amazing work. Each child we think how we could give them the most. The focus is definitely there and gets harder as they get bigger. Some Moms tell me that it is expensive when they are in preschool. Well it is expensive at every age if you decide to promote their learning capabilities and give the all a head start.
danielleroberts1713 danielleroberts1713 3 years
I'm third born and the highest academic achiever in my family. both my younger brother and I were/are gifted. both of my children are gifted and, although my daughter is only 1.5yrs, I'm positive she will be more focused academically. but my 9yo son is off the charts creatively (concerning theoretical aviation design and in the kitchen specifically) . my husband is gifted as well, so maybe it is reversed for like families.
AmeliaPhillips98383 AmeliaPhillips98383 3 years
So much of this is the child's personality! Not the parent. My parents didn't have to push me. I did great in school. My older sister didn't do very well, but I don't think it was for lack of my parents pushing.
MeredinNewcomb MeredinNewcomb 3 years
My siblings and I have done equally well in school. Once we hit college some priorities changed for some of us. I am the oldest and got married at 20 after getting my associates. I plan on finishing my bachelors once my youngest is in school. My younger sister graduated with her bachelors in nursing at 20 and is now working at a hospital. I don't consider her smarter than me, our priorities just were different.
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