The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Breaking News

Features

April 29, 2014

Firstborn girls are statistically more likely to run the world

WASHINGTON — There's a hunger in psychology for birth-order effects — prophecies about personality that originate in whether your siblings are older or younger than you. Alfred Adler, a student of Freud, pioneered the idea that firstborns seek out leadership roles, delight in rules and order, and value achievement; that lastborns tend to be charming, popular and spoiled; that middle children — yawn, who cares?; and that onlies can be both mature and dependent.

But many of the studies trying to back up these truisms with evidence use shoddy methodology that either fails to control for family size, economic status or parents' educational attainment or extrapolates about dynamics within a family from comparisons between families (e.g., the Smiths' eldest earns higher grades than the Jones' youngest, so firstborn kids do better in school). New research from scientists at the University of Essex, though, uses multilevel modeling techniques to overcome these hurdles, and the results suggest that birth-order effects are more than just a methodological illusion. At least when it comes to academic achievement, the mythical yeti of family psych has been bagged and examined — call your older sister!

Feifei Bu looked at more than 1,503 sibling clusters and 3,532 individuals taking part in the massive British Household Panel Survey, which has been parsing the isle's domestic DNA since 1991, and its successor, the Great Britain Household Longitudinal Study. She finds that firstborns are more likely to be the "ambitious" and "accomplished" ones in their families. Firstborn girls especially outdo their siblings in educational dreams and attainment — they are 13 percent likelier to aspire to graduate school than firstborn boys.

On the other hand, the researchers write, "We see no evidence that the sex of one's siblings has any effect on educational aspiration or outcomes. Nor do we find a strong relationship between sibship size and either educational aspiration or attainment." (So you can't blame your grades on how many siblings you have or what gender they are.) What does seem meaningful is the time spacing between children: Eldest kids separated from their brothers and sisters by a significant age gap — four or more years — are likelier, at 13, to express an interest in higher education, and they go on to pursue more advanced degrees.

Past studies indicating that firstborns have higher IQs than their siblings have launched speculation about why this might be (as well as taunts that the dumb middles and lastborns are too thick-skulled to push out their own competing studies). Bu floats several of these older hypotheses in reference to her results. Confluence theory states that "children's intellectual development is moulded by the intellectual environment in the family, which is a function of the average of the intellectual levels of all members of the family." So the brain climate is loftier for firstborns than for younger sisters and brothers — at least until those younger siblings are born, after which, shouldn't they be better-positioned than their elders? (Confluence theory doesn't make a ton of sense to me. Perhaps I have an older sibling I don't know about.)

Other, more plausible explanations: While parents, newly stunned by the miracle of life, invest more resources in their first child, the wondrousness has worn off by kid No. 3, who must fend for herself intellectually. Or firstborns are less constrained in their achievements by the need to differentiate themselves from a sibling — they get "first pick" of an identity, so it's more likely to fit. Or — finally, and most simply — stereotypes about eldest-child excellence coalesce into expectations, which toughen into realities.

I wish the paper had tried to account for the particular ambition of firstborn girls. (The Guardian has a pretty persuasive list of power-playing female eldests that includes Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé.) The result does seem to bulwark the fact that women are pulling ahead of men in educational attainment more generally, and that gifted girls prove especially vulnerable to pressure from their folks. One factor Bu and her team may have overlooked as they teased apart the family structure's role in scholastic glory? Pets. If I have accomplished anything in my career as a daughter, it has been in quixotic pursuit of being loved as much as the dog.

1
Text Only
Features
  • Miss Clinton County 2014 Wiebers crowned 2014 Miss Clinton County

    For nearly all of her life, Taylor Wiebers has dreamed of winning the title of Miss Clinton County.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meet Your Neighbor: JR Kuch takes the reins at Clinton High School

    Working as a high school helper during his senior year at North Scott High School, JohnRyan "JR" Kuch first stepped onto the path of teaching and administration.

    July 26, 2014

  • Evergreen job fair in the works

    The Clinton Regional Development Corp. and the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce are lining up companies to participate in a job fair exclusively for the soon-to-be displaced employees of Evergreen Packaging.

    July 26, 2014

  • Zeiser photo 85 years a nun By Brenden WestAssistant EditorCLINTON — There are things you outlive over a lifetime.Sister Bertha Zeiser, 103, grew up in a Clinton County town that no longer exists (formerly known as Browns); the house she was born in is now a cornfield somewhere

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (with VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 24, 2014

  • Stewart McCaskill photo McCaskill settles into new role at shoe store CLINTON — An Oklahoma boy at heart, Stewart McCaskill is settling into Clinton and Brown’s Shoe Fit.The 35-year-old has worked with the Brown’s Shoe Fit company for seven years. His brother-in-law, who manages a Brown’s in Colorado, brought Stewart i

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 23, 2014

  • Darryl Hogue mugshot Hogue will lead River Bend schools FULTON, Ill. — Nearly eight months after opening the search, the River Bend School Board has found a replacement for the retiring district superintendent Robert “Chuck” Holliday.Darryl Hogue, principal of Morrison Junior High School, in Morrison, Ill

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-22-14 water 2 Rotary Club donation gets water to Haitians CLINTON — Nine Haitian communities now have the blessing of clean water due to the work of local Iowa Rotary clubs, including Clinton’s, and the charity Water for Life.Water for Life Directors Joy and Leon Miller have been drilling wells for years as

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

Clinton Herald Photos


Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.

Facebook