News

April 2, 2023

Are firstborns really cleverer than their siblings?

Are firstborns really cleverer than their siblings?

By Bunmi Sofola

WHAT kind of a person do you imagine when you think of a conscientious, hardworking conformist? A proud brother or sister who shoulders responsibilities with or without encouragement? What if you were to be asked which member of your family is the most extroverted or the naughtiest? Do you think of your younger sibling? Does the thought of a middle child conjure pictures of tortured soul, forever torn between two extremes? The difficult middle child, the spoilt only child, the wayward baby: few of us escaped being labelled according to some sort of sibling stereotype. But what, really are we to believe about the role our position in the family plays in determining our personality? Are the stereotypes true? – or is the psychology of birth order just a load of hokum? Research undertaken by scientist at the University of Oslo would suggest that there is, in fact, a good deal of truth in our family folklore. Using the IQ tests taken from the Military records of 241,310 Norwegian conscripts, the scientists have found that eldest siblings are, on average, significantly “more intelligent” than second-borns. It may not seem like much, but 2.3 points on the IQ scale the average difference between first and second siblings – could be enough to determine whether or not someone gets into a good college.

But what is equally intriguing about this study, which carries the kudos of having been published in the peer review journal, Science, is the way the scientist have tried to find the possible reasons for this difference. Is it something that begins with gestation in the womb, or is it just the way siblings are reared within the family? Biology certainly seems to play a role. 

Younger siblings tend to be shorter than older brothers or sisters. And the chances of being gay increase substantially according to the number of elder brothers a boy might have. But can biology and birth order within the womb explain these 

IQ differences, or can we put it down to upbringing within the family?

Petter Kristensen of Oslo University attempted to resolve this talk on the “Nature versus nurture” debate by looking at second born siblings who, because of the early death of their brother or sister had become the defacto eldest in the family at some point after their birth. What he found was pretty convincing evidence that it was not the fact of being born first that gave you an intellectual head start in life: it was the actual role of being the eldest that was important. It was being reared as the eldest, rather than being born the eldest, that mattered. “This study provides evidence that the relation between birth order and IQ scores is dependent on the social rank in the family and not birth order as such”, Kristensen explains.

This latest argument has several enthusiastic supporters. Professor Frank Sulloway, who has become a leading, proponent of the birth order idea, has gone as far as to suggest that the Norwegian study dispels any previous doubts about the intellectual prowess of first borns. Sulloway, of the University of California, says that any major criticisms of the birth order idea – that the personality difference between families are so great that they obscure any differences within the families can now be laid to rest. “At least in the domain of intellectual ability, the new Norwegian findings rule out this alternative explanation,” he says. In fact, he suggests that birth order helps to shape more than just intelligence. Since the publication in 1966 of his book on the subject, Born to Rebel, Sulloway says four different studies, involving more than 5,000 subjects from five countries, also support this 

contentious view. “They have shown that first borns are rated as being more conscientious, less agreeable, less extroverted in the sense of being fun-loving and excitement – seeking and less open to experience than later borns”, he says. “Several studies have shown that later-borns are – judged to be the ‘rebels’ of the family and that they are actually more likely to rebel in real life.”

Too Good To Be True? (Humour)

For quite some time, a man has lived next door to a beautiful young girl. He curses his lack of confidence, as he’s never said more than hello to the fantastic creature on his doorstep. Then one day, as he returns from work, the girl appears at her front door wearing a flimsy negligee and beckons him over. As she slides her arms around his neck, it’s obvious she’s coming on to him, and the man gets increasingly hot under the collar. All of a sudden she looks up.

“Inside, quickly,” she whispers urgently, “I can hear someone coming.” Blind with lust, he followed her indoors where she strips off and stands in front of him, stark naked. “So honey” she coos, “what do you think my best attribute is?” “Well,” the man stammers, “It’s … er … got to be hour ears”. The woman frowns at him incredulously. “My ears,” she gasped. “But why? Have you ever seen such flawless skin? Such pert breasts? Have you ever set eyes upon such a firm backside?” “No – I agree,” says the man. The woman shakes her head, “And yet you say my ears…” “Well it’s like this,” he replies, “When we were outside, you said you could hear someone coming.” “So?” she demands. The man gulps. “Well, that was me!”