What do strippers and scholars have in common? There is some evidence that they are more likely to be firstborn children, like me. The over-representation of firstborns in these professions, according to a 1975 research paper, could be down to the fact that “both groups have especially intense needs for recognition, attention, and approval”. Another explanation, of course, could be that the stripper study was based on just 35 people (of which 31 were firstborn) and is thus completely meaningless. But I think I prefer the original theory.
It’s not just stripping and scholarship that is supposed to attract eldest kids. A 2017 Swedish study found that firstborn children are more likely to be CEOs and managers while youngest children are more likely to take risks and be self-employed. Another study (which, bizarrely, was commissioned by Disney as PR for Frozen) found that middle children are 30% more likely to be CEOs than their siblings and 41% more likely to be Olympic athletes.
The idea that your birth order determines your future is beguiling: it means you can blame more of your life choices on your parents. Alas, a new study from the University of Houston has found that the role of birth order on personality and career choice has probably been overestimated. The psychologist Rodica Damian looked at data tracking 3,763 Americans across 50 years and found that “there is little-to-no evidence here to suggest that first- v later-borns are destined for specific careers.” Her results chime with another largescale study from 2015 that looked at 20,000 adults from the US, UK and Germany and found “no birth-order effects on extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness or imagination.”
So there you go: for every research paper saying one thing, there’s another paper saying exactly the opposite. I’m no scientist but I am an older child and have a hunch that the studies that show firstborn kids are smarter than their siblings are probably the most trustworthy of the bunch.