My two sisters and I fit perfectly into commonly held beliefs about birth order. As a middle child, I crave attention. My older sister, as the first born, is detail-oriented. My younger sister is adept in any social situation. The question is: Why? Are our personalities the result of genetics, or the environment we grew up in?
The study of birth order also could be “post hoc quasi-science is that it is a bit like astrology,” as Steve Connor posits for the British newspaper, the Independent. It’s easy to attribute personality traits to birth order, when they fit neatly into our preconceived notions. “[R]ather like reading a horoscope and finding that it neatly explains elements of your current situation,” Connor writes.
In spite of Connor’s charges of snake oil science, research keeps coming out to support a strong correlation between birth order and personality. Connors article responds to a study from the University of Oslo in Norway that says first born children are, on the whole, smarter than second born. The study, first published in the peer reviewed Science magazine, made headlines in USA Today and the New York Times. (And was subsequently emailed to me by my older sister.)
That media attention could be due to a bias toward birth order science, according to psychologist Judith Rich Harris, quoted in the Independent. Harris says that the only birth-order studies that get media attention are the ones that support "subjective impressions based on personal experiences,” of birth order.
So are middle children as “difficult” as research suggests? You’d have to ask my sisters.