Birth Order on Achievement, Personality Traits and Relationships

Throughout the last decade, numerous studies have been conducted to investigate various aspects birth order (). Birth order refers to the place or position in the family to which a person is born into (i.e. Firstborn, middleborn, lastborn and only child) (Forer , 1969). As the first contributor to the idea of birth order, Alfred Adler believed that birth order plays a major role in allowing people to create their own personality and unique style of life (Schults & Schults, 2006). By unique style of life, Adler was referring to the unique characteristics or pattern of behaviors by which humans strive for perfection (Schults & Schults, 2006). Thus, Adler suggested that firstborns are the most scholastically achieving, responsible and organized. The middleborns tend to be noncompetitive (Phillips & Phillips, 2000) and perform below their abilities in many facets of life (Schults & Schults, 2006). As for the lastborns, they are high achievers (Schults & Schults, 2006), affectionate and persuasive (Phillips & Phillips, 2000). On the other hand, the only child tend to mature early and manifest adult behaviors and attitudes, since they spend most of their time in the company of an adult (Schults & Schults, 2006).

As a result of Adler’s theory on birth order, several researches have been conducted to study the effects of birth order on different aspects of life (Schultz & Schultz, 2006).Robert Zajonc , an influential theorist, thoroughly investigated the effect of birth order on intelligence and achievement (Rodgers, Cleveland, Oord & Rowe, 2000). As a result, Zajonc proposed the confluence model, by which he suggested that birth order, family size and child spacing play an important role on the intellectual development of the child (Rodgers, Clevelan, Oord & Rowe, 2000). In addition, several researchers examined the effect of birth order on the quality of an individual’s interpersonal relationships (Pollet & Nettle, 2009; Salmon, 2003; Salmon, 1999)

Since most of the studies and researches on birth order have been conducted in the West, the purpose of this study is to investigate the effects of birth order on achievement, personality traits and interpersonal relationships of college students in Lebanon.

Review of the Literature

Birth order and achievement.

As mentioned earlier, Robert Zajonc and his colleagues introduced and developed the confluence theory in 1975 (Retherford & Sewell, 1991). Through this theory, the relationship between birth order, family size and intellectual development was clearly explained (Retherford & Sewell, 1991). It was reported that as birth order position of an individual increases, IQ decreases (Salmon, 2007). Zajonc and his colleagues explained this observation by the following reasons: Firstborns interact mainly with adults and are more exposed to the adult world/environment, compared to the laterborns; which often interact with young siblings and are exposed to a child’s world (Salmon, 2007). In addition, firstborns are more likely to become the tutors of their younger siblings (Salmon, 2007).Teaching others or younger siblings has been found to be positively influencing the intellectual development of the tutor (Retherford & Sewell, 1991).

The factors affecting this intelligence differences between the birth orders are debatable (Fritz, 2006). For example, Retherford and Sewell (1991) examined Zajonc’s confluence model thoroughly, to test whether its implications are accurate conceptually and methodologically. Thus, they investigated the mathematical form Zajonc used while developing his theory. In order to not fall into flaws, the researchers used collective data, between-family data and within-family data. Moreover, their sample was taken from the Wisconsen Longitudinal Study in which the participants’ academic performance was reviewed several times throughout the years of their development and growth. The results of this study did not support the confluence theory. The statistical methods used in the confluence model were found to be faulty, because when the statistical analysis was done properly, the results were not consistent with Zajonc’s. Moreover, Retherford & Sewell claim that the statistical methods used by Zajonc were done in a way to fit the Dutch data in his sample.

These result differences resulted in several debates on whether birth order affects intelligence or not().

Paulhus , Trapnell and Chen (1999) examined the effects of birth order on personality and achievement using four distinct studies. In the first study, the sample consisted of 164 undergraduates from University of California, Berkley. Each student was given a set of questions, in which he/she was asked to write the birth order of his/her siblings and then indicate which one of them is “rebellious” and the “most scholastically achieving” . The results of this study confirmed that firstborns achieve higher than lastborns, who were found to be more rebellious. Limitation to this study included the fact that the participants were from the University of California Berkley, a highly selective university , and participants could have been aware about the birth order effects and as a result , their nomination of the rebel and the achiever would be biased. As a result, in study two , data were collected from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver , Canada , which has less stringent criteria for student admission. The participants of were 395 undergraduates from four intact classes. The researchers devided the participants into two groups: “high-salience condition” and “low-salience condition”. The 217 participants ,who were in the first group , were asked to indicate the birth order of all the members in the family and nominate the achiever and the rebellious. In the second group, the 175 participants were asked to write the initials of the achiever and the rebel in the family and then note the birth order of each of them and the total number in the family. The results were consistent with the results of study one; firstborns were nominated as achievers and the lastborns were nominated as rebellious.

In study three, the researchers increased the range of their questions by including the four factors of the Big Five personality traits (Neuroticism was excluded because of its weak effects on birth order). A package of questionnaire was distributed among 203 undergraduates. The participants were asked to complete the package at home. The questionnaire included questions about rating the self and the siblings on seven different variable: Rebellious, scholastically achieving, liberal , socially confident , agreeable , conscientious and creative. The results of this study showed that firstborns were the most achieving and the most conscientious. Lastborns were found to be liberal , agreeable and rebellious. Creativity and extraversion showed no significance.

Lastly , in study four , the sample consisted of 260 adults who were older than 40 years old . the participants education ranged from six to 20 years. In this study, the student participants were given a package of questionnaire to be filled by their parents at home. The results of this study were no different compared with the previous studies: firstborns were found to be more conscientious and lastborns more liberal.

On the other hand, Phillips and Phillips (2000) found that, firstborns are more likely to make internal self-attribution for good performance compared to the lastborns. They investigated this birth order differences through a sample of 154 college students from a regional university in the southern United States. The participants were 56% females and 44% males, with an average age of 24 years. Firstborns and only children were combined in this sample, because of their similar experiences; they were referred to as firstborns in this study. Also, lastborns and middleborns were combined for the same reason, and they were referred to as laterborns. Thus, the sample was divided into 66 firstborns and 88 laterborns were The instrument used in this study was a survey, in which the participants were asked to remember a recent occasion, at school or at work, in which they performed successfully or unsuccessfully. Later, the participants made attributions and indicated the factors that they believe affected their performance. These attributions were measured using 9-point response alternatives, worded differently according to each question. Through this response alternatives, the researchers were able to decide whether the participant’s attributions were internal or external. In addition, responses of all questions were added, so that higher scores indicate internal attirubtions. The results of this study showed that, regardless of the participant’s order of birth, the attributions for successful performance was internal, compared to the attributions for unsuccessful performance, which was found to be external. Moreover, firstborns were found to make more internal self-attributions for good performance compared to the lastborns. Finally, no differences was found between birth orders with regard to attributions for poor performance.

Birth order and relationships.

Pollet and Nettle (2009) conducted a study to investigate how birth order affects the relationship with family members and friends. The sample consisted of 8161 (4741 females and 34320 males) participants randomly chosen from the Dutch address register. The ages of the participants ranged between 18 and 79 years of age. The instrument used in this study was an interview. The participants were interviewed by a trained researcher for 74 minutes. The participants were asked questions regarding the quality of their family life and relationship with siblings. The quality of the participant’s relationship with the father, mother, partner, a close friend and a sibling was assessed according to these four categories: “not great”, “reasonable”, “good” and “very good”. To avoid categories with few cases, “reasonable” and “not great” responses were merged. Furthermore, the participants were asked to provide demographic information about themselves, their family and friends. These demographic information included gender, educational attainment, marital status and employment history. After the interview, participants with two siblings were chosen to avoid sampling bias when referring to family members as lastborns and middleborns, and to keep the family size constant. Consequently, the final sample consisted of 794 participants. Moreover, the researchers compared the relationship quality between each family member and friend. Later, a sibling of the participant was asked to fill in a mailed questionnaire that consisted of questions regarding the quality of their relationship with the participant.

The results of this study showed that middleborns are more likely to report worse family relationships compared to other birth orders. Firstborns are more likely to have a better sibling relationship compared to middleborns and lastborns. Moreover, firstborns are more likely to prefer a sibling or a family member over a friend. Similarly, elder participants were more likely to prefer their parents over a sibling. However, no significant difference was found between the firstborns and lastborns in preferring a father over a friend. Moreover, highly educated individuals reported better relationships with their father and sibling. The results also showed that the participants reported better relationship with the female friend and the female sibling.

(DELETE). However, a slight difference was found between firstborns and lastborns; firstborns reported a very good relationship with their siblings compared to the lastborns. Firstborns were more likely to report “good” relationship with their siblings compared to the lastborns. On the other hand, middleborns were more likely than the firstborns to report a “good” relationship with their siblings. Moreover, firstborns were found to prefer a family member over a friend compared to the other birth orders. Firstborns were also found to prefer a sibling over a friend compared to the lastborns. Middleborns did not show any significant difference in preferring a sibling over a friend. When the sibling’s report about the quality of their relationship with the participants was recorded, it was found that firstborns are more likely to report a better relationship with their siblings compared to the other birth orders. Conversly, middleborns were more likely than other birth orders to report a worse relationship with their siblings. ( there are many more results.. recheck narine on the article.) (DELETE)

Salmon (1999) examined the effects of birth order and sex on the regularity of phone contacts and visits between individuals and relatives .She used two different studies to examine these effects. The participants in study one consisted of 140 (70 males and 70 females) undergraduate students from the McMaster University and they ranged between 17 and 35 years of age. Participation in this study was part of a requirement for an introductory course in psychology. The subjects in this study completed a questionnaire that contained questions about their sex and order of birth. In addition to that, participants were asked to list their relatives (grandparents, aunts and uncles) and how far each of them lived from the questioned participant. Later, participants were asked to indicate how often they saw these relatives and how often do they contact them through the phone. The results of this study showed that there is no link between the living distance and the frequency of visiting or phone contact with a certain relative. However, a small number of participants living away from their relatives noted that they visit rarely but contact them through phone more often. Moreover, the results showed that the participants lived closer to their paternal relatives .In addition, females were found to visit and phone contact their relatives (paternal and maternal) more regularly than males. Despite the fact that the participants lived closer to their paternal relatives, the results showed that the subjects had more frequent contact with their maternal relatives.

On the other side , study two consisted of an additional 112(66 females and 46 males) undergraduate students from McMaster University who were between the range of 18 and 25 years of age. Again , participation in this study was part of a requirement for either an introductory or a second-year course in psychology. The participants completed a questionnaire about the amount and type of contact each of them had with their relatives. Moreover, the birth order of the participant’s mother and father was noted. The results of this study also revealed that the subjects lived close to their paternal relatives. In addition, no significant link was found between living distance and the frequency of visits and phone contacts with relatives. Study two also showed that participant’s with first- or lastborn mothers saw their maternal grandparents more often than those with middleborn mothers. In addition, participants with first- or lastborn fathers saw their paternal grandparents more often compared to those with middleborn father. Finally, maternal grandparents had more contact with the participants compared to the paternal grandparents.

In addition to the previous study, Salmon (2003) investigated the effect of birth order on family, friends and sexual partners’ relationships. The sample of the study consisted of 245 undergraduate students from the Simon Fraser University. Twins and only children were excluded from the study, thus the final sample consisted of 227 participants (70 male, 157 female; 96 firstborns, 72 middleborns, 59 lastborns). The participant’s ages ranged between 18 and 32 years of age and they all belonged to middle-income families which consisted of four or less children. Moreover, 92% of the subjects were single and the remaining 8 % were either living with a partner or married.

The instruments used in this study were Familial Orientation Scale; which focused on parental favoritism and attitudes about family life, two measures of helping behavior; which tested the participant’s willingness to help a family member and a stranger, attitudes towards friendship scale and sociosexuality scale; which examined the participant’s sexual behavior in a committed relationship. In addition to the different instruments, subjects were asked demographic questions.

The results of this study showed that middleborns articulated less positive attitude towards family compared with the firstborns and lastborns. Moreover, in helping a family member in need, middleborns expressed less positive attitude than firstborns and lastborns. There was no birth order difference in attitudes toward helping a stranger . In addition, middleborns articulated postivly towards friendship and its benefits compared to firstborns and lastborn. Furthermore , the results of the Familial Orientation Scale showed that a mother’s favoured child is usually a firstborn (45%) compared to that of the middleborns(22%) and the lastborns(33%) , while a father’s favoured child is the lastborn (43%) compared to firstborns (36%) and the middleborns (21%). This results confirmed that middleborns are less likely to be a parental favourite. Finaly , results from the sociosexuality scale showed that males scored higher than females and no birth order effect was found.

Birth order and personality.

Alfred Adler called his theory of personality “individual psychology” because he believed in the uniqueness of each person (Schults & Schults, 2006) . In addition, Adler believed that birth order plays a major role in creating our unique lifestyle and personality (Schults & Schults, 2006). Based on his theory, numerous studies have been conducted investigating the diverse effects of birth order on personality (Salmon, 2007).

In “Birth Order”, Sulloway (2007) discussed the relationship between birth order and personality. Using the Big Five model, human behavior and personality can be classified according to five elements: conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversions, openness to experience, and neuroticism. According to Sulloway, parents usually rate their firstborn as conscientious and achievers. In addition, firstborns are more responsible, self-disciplined, organized, dominant and assertive compared to their siblings. On the other hand, lastborns are affectionate, excited and drawn to risk-taking. They are typically rated as “the rebel” of the family who reject tradition and are attracted to novelty. Middleborns usually score higher on measures of agreeableness because of their position between firstborns and lastborns. According to Sulloway, neurtocism and birth order has no significant impact on each another.



In order to reduce the limitations of previous studies regarding birth order and personality, Dunkel, Harbke and Papini (2009) conducted a study to investigate the birth order effects on personality and identity. They used a sample of 710 undergraduate participants from midwestern university in the United States of America. The participants were 420 females and 286 males. With respect to race, the participants were 119 Black, 16 Hispanic, 19 Asian, 6 American Indian and 16 other.

A questionnaire was distributed to the participants. First, birth order was measured by asking the participants to indicate whether they are first, middle or last born. Only children were excluded from the sample. In addition, participants who did not live with their family for the first 10 years of life were excluded. Thus, the final sample consisted of 391 participants (163 firstborns, 72 middleborns and 156 lastborns. Five factors were measured in this study: maternal age and parental education, maternal closeness and rejection, identification with parents, identity and personality.

First the participants reported their mother’s age when they were born. Later, they indicated the level of their both parent’s education on a scale that ranged from “1-did not complete highschool” to “6- completion of a postcollege graduate degree”. Moreover, the researchers determined maternal closeness and rejection using the “Relationship With Father/Mother Questionnaire”. Identification with parents was measured using the “Identification With Parents Scale”. Identity was measured using 29 items of the “Identity Style Inventory-3”. The items or subscales measured in this instrument were informational, normative and diffuse styles. Furthermore, Identity capital was measured using the “Identity Stage Resolution Index”. Lastly, personality was measured using the “Ten-Item Personality Inventory”.

The results of this study were




The sample of the present study consisted of 100 college students, aged between 20 and 30 years, from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese American University (LAU). These two universities are typically attended by students from middle and middle-upper social classes in Lebanon. The participants were 55% males and 45% females. Education level of the participants ranged from freshman (%) to senior (%). Regarding birth order, the sample was divided accordingly: 41 % firstborns, 30 % middleborns and 29% lastborns. Moreover, an interview was conducted with Dr. Hiyam Zein who is an assistant professor of cultural studies and psychology at LAU in Beirut.


The instrument used in this study was a questionnaire (see Appendix), that was developed based on some of the reviewed literature. The questionnaire was divided into three parts. The first part consisted of 12 statements to which the participant responded by either “yes”, “neutral” or “no”. The first eight statements consisted of sentences regarding how achievement oriented and motivated to succeed and individual is. Moreover, two statements regarding values and beliefs were addressed as well as questions on helping behavior for example : “I get out of my way to help a family member in need”. The second part of the questionnaire consisted of 12 items, in which the participants were asked to rate the quality of the relationship with their father, mother, older brother, younger brother, older sister, younger sister, paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends in general and close friends by choosing one from the given four categories: “very good”, “good”, “reasonable” and “not great”. The “reasonable” and “not great” responses were merged together, in order to avoid a category with few responses. The last part of the questionnaire consisted of seven personality characteristics, from which the participants had to choose what best applies to them. These characteristics were: rebellious, scholastically achieving, socially confident, agreeable, conscientious, creative and liberal. Moreover, I conducted an interview with Dr. Hiyam Zein , an assistant professor of cultural studies and psychology at LAU in Beirut, to further support the results of my study.


Before distributing the questionnaire on the actual sample of my study, I piloted it on five students (three from LAU and two from AUB) who match my sample. As a result of the pilot testing, the changes suggested were to modify one of the instructions in the second part of the questionnaire. I implemented this suggestion by changing the instruction “skip if you are an only child” by “skip if you don’t have this sibling” in questions three, four, five and six of part two of the questionnaire (see Appendix).

After modifying the questionnaire, I distributed it randomly around LAU and AUB campuses. I asked random students around campus if they are willing to participate in my senior study by filling up a questionnaire. The students at both universities were very pleased and welcoming. The questionnaire took about five to ten minutes of the participant’s time. In addition, I collected the data from both campuses on one day.

After collecting the questionnaires and reviewing the results, I prepared some questions about my results and how the Lebanese culture play a role on the people and their achievement tendencies. I emailed Dr. Zein and asked for an interview appointment. I explained to her in the email the purpose of my study and a general idea of the questions I wanted to ask her and take her point of view. Dr. Zein was very welcoming and she replied to my email and appointed a date for our interview. On the assigned interview date, I met Dr. Zein in her office at LAU. The interview was 15 minutes long. I recorded the interview on my phone recorder, and then I worte it down (see Appendix B).



The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of birth order on achievement, interpersonal relationships and personality traits.


The first part of the questionnaire consisted of 12 statements. The first eight questions were concerned with achievement tendencies. The purpose of this part was to see how achievement oriented the participant is according to is the participants with respect to their birth order (see Tables 1, 2 and 3).

The first question was concerned with goal setting and working toward achieving it. The majority of all the participants responded as “yes” to this question (70.7% of the firstborns, 63.3% of the middleborns and 93.1% of the lastborns). None of the firstborns responded as “no” to this statement compared to the middleborns (6.7%) and the lastborns (3.44%).

The response to the second and third question, which was concerned with hard working and motivation to succeed, were similar. The positive respondents were 70.7% firstborns, 60% middleborns and 82.7% lastborns. Again, none of the firstborns responded negatively with respect to motivation and hardworking compared to the middleborns (3.3%) and the lastborns (3.44%)

Almost half of the firstborns (56.1%) agreed to the statement “I turn plans into actions”, along with 36.7% of middleborns and 62.06% lastborns. None of the lastborns disagreed to this statement (see Table 3), compared to the firstborns (7.3%) and middleborns (6.6%).

When the participants were asked about their tendency to set high standards, the respondents who agreed were 78.04% firstborns, 46.7% middleborns and 72.4% lastborns. Only 2.4% of the firstborns and 3.3% of the middleborns disagreed.

Moreover, when the participants were asked whether or not they do more than what is expected from them, 43.9% of the firstborns, 26.7% middleborns and 44.8% middleborns agreed. However, when they were asked if they do just enough work to get by, the majority of the firstborns (41.5%) disagreed along with 20% middleborns and 27.5% lastborns.


The second part of my questionnaire was concerned with the quality of the participant’s relationships with several family members and friends. The results showed that almost half of all the firstborns (58.5%), middleborns (56.6%) and lastborns (48.2%) rated the quality of their relationship with their father as “very good”. However, when it came to the relationship with their mother, the participants who rated this relationship as “very good” were 70.7% firstborns, 76.6% middleborns and 72.4% lastborns.

When the participants were asked to rate the quality of their sibling relationships, most of the participants

Personality Characteristics

The purpose of the last part of the questionnaire was to examine what characteristics apply to the participants and whether a difference can be found with respect to birth order.

The results showed that the majority of the firstborns (75.6%), middleborns (56.6%) and lastborns (65.5%) checked the “socially confident” characteristic.

Don’t forget to mention the helping behavior and beliefs and values.



Relationship qualitu as well as subjective closeness to a person have been argued to have a predictive value for helping behavior in times of need (Birt order and adult family relationships.)


Please check the appropriate box

Age: 17-18.11 19-20.11 21-22.11 23 and older

Sex: Male Female

How many Siblings do you have? ——–Brothers & ——– Sisters

Birth Order:

First Child

Middle Child

Second Child Third Child fourth Child ——– Child

Last Child

Only Child



Education Level

Sophomore (first year) Junior (second year) Senior (third year)

Graduate level

Part 1:

Read each statement, and then check the box that best describes your views:






I keep focused on the goals I set for myself , and work towards achieving them


I work hard to achieve my goals


I am highly motivated to succeed


I turn plans into actions


I do just enough work to get by


I do more than what’s expected of me


I set high standards for myself


Compared to my siblings , my academic achievement is higher , as evidenced by my better grades


I value family over anything else.


I have the same beliefs and values as those of my parents


I get out of my way to help a family member in need


I get out of my way to help a friend in need

Part 2:

Please rate your relationships with the following people.

Very Good



Not Great


Relationship with Father


Relationship with Mother


Relationship with Older Brother(s)

(skip if you don’t have this sibling)


Relationship with Younger Brother(s)

(skip if you don’t have this sibling)


Relationship with Older Sister(s)

(skip if you don’t have this sibling)


Relationship with Younger Sister(s)

(skip if you don’t have this sibling)


Relationship with Grandparents

( Father’s side)


Relationship with Grandparents

(Mother’s side)


Relationship with Relatives



Relationship with Relatives

(Uncles & Aunts)


Relationship with Friends in general


Relationship with close Friend(s)

Part 3:

Check the characteristic that applies to you:


Scholastically achieving

Socially confident





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