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Does birth order matter for personality?
Oldest siblings may be the conservatives of the family, according to new research from Italy.
The new study finds that the eldest child of a family is more likely to be conservative than the second-born, which supports a controversial theory that has been kicking around the social science community since at least 1928. The question of whether and how much birth order
really shapes a person's personality remains open and contentious, however.
"We suggest that differences in conservatism between firstborns and second-borns stem from different strategies of optimizing the parental resources children can gain in the family system," study researcher Daniela Barni, a psychologist at the Catholic University of Milan in Italy, told Live Science.
Birth order controversy
Barni and her colleagues were investigating a question with a long history in psychology. The idea that a person's birth order
can influence his or her entire life came from Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist who lived at the same time as Sigmund Freud. Adler theorized in 1928 that firstborn children are more conservative - in the sense of being resistant to change and preferring order and conformity - than their younger siblings, because the eldest child has had the experience of being toppled from his or her throne by the sudden arrival of a tiny competitor.
In 1997, psychologist Frank Sulloway expanded on the theory in his book, Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives
(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1997). Sulloway suggested that firstborns are used to being dominant and prefer to uphold the status quo, while second-borns, looking for a unique niche to fill in their families, take a path of rebellion. Firstborns also stick to a conservative path in order to align themselves with their parents, Sulloway argued.