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Beliefs About Birth Rank and Their Reflection in Reality

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Beliefs about birth rank reflect what the society regards as social reality, and they may also influence that reality. Three studies found that people believe those with different birth ranks differ in their personalities, that higher birth ranks are likely to attain higher occupational prestige, and that the personality characteristics attributed to the various birth ranks favor the actual attainment of higher occupational prestige. In one example of such beliefs, firstborns were rated as most intelligent but least creative whereas the opposite was true of last-borns. The 4th study found that those with higher birth ranks in fact attain more prestigious occupations and actually do complete more years of schooling.
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Beliefs About Birth Rank and Their Reflection in Reality
Nicholas C. Herrera and R. B. Zajonc
Stanford University
Grazyna Wieczorkowska and Bogdan Cichomski
University of Warsaw
Beliefs about birth rank reflect what the society regards as social reality, and they may also influence that
reality. Three studies found that people believe those with different birth ranks differ in their personal-
ities, that higher birth ranks are likely to attain higher occupational prestige, and that the personality
characteristics attributed to the various birth ranks favor the actual attainment of higher occupational
prestige. In one example of such beliefs, firstborns were rated as most intelligent but least creative
whereas the opposite was true of last-borns. The 4th study found that those with higher birth ranks in fact
attain more prestigious occupations and actually do complete more years of schooling.
If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other disliked, and they
have borne him children, both the loved and the disliked, and if the
first-born is hers that is disliked, then on the day when he assigns his
possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of
the loved as the first-born in preference to the son of the disliked, who
is the first-born, but he shall acknowledge the first-born, the son of the
disliked, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the
first issue of his strength; the right of the first-born is his.
—Deuteronomy 21.15–17 (Revised Standard Version)
In most societies, laws of inheritance, customs of intestacy, and
practices of succession favor the male firstborn child. Such cus-
toms and laws reflect cultural beliefs that firstborns, only children,
and later-borns differ from each other in some fundamental ways.
A recent study by McAndrew, King, and Honoroff (2002) found
that namesaking—that is, bestowing the parent’s name onto the
offspring, especially the male offspring—varies systematically
with birth order. McAndrew et al. described namesaking “as a
strategy for procuring future investment of resources from the
father” (p. 851). McAndrew et al. found that among the under-
graduates at a liberal arts college, 60.3% of male firstborns were
namesaked, whereas only 37.5% of male later-borns were name-
saked. Second-borns showed an intermediate pattern—50.0%. Ba-
linese children are given names according to their birth order:
Wayan for the firstborn, Made´ for the second-born, Nyoman for the
third, and Ktut for the fourth (Lansing, 1995).
Although studies on birth order number in the thousands
(Ernst & Angst, 1983), research that has explored people’s
beliefs about attributes related to birth order is scarce (Bas-
kett, 1985; Musun-Miller, 1993; Nyman, 1995). Yet these be-
liefs are significant because they both reflect some reality about
the correlates of birth order and may well influence the actual
role of birth order in society. Important decisions in interper-
sonal interaction, mating, appointments, promotions, awards,
and distinctions might well be made with birth rank entering,
often unconsciously, as an important consideration. It has been
demonstrated in research on self-fulfilling prophecies
(Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968) and behavioral confirmation
(Snyder, 1984) that people’s beliefs do influence their judg-
ments of others and their actual behavior toward them. This
article seeks to examine some significant beliefs about the
correlates of birth order and their correspondence with actual
empirical differences that these beliefs and stereotypes might
reflect.
The birth order literature is characterized by conflict and ambi-
guity. For example, Sulloway (1996) and Zajonc (1983) have
reported systematic and significant effects, whereas other authors
claim that there are simply no effects of birth order on personality
(Ernst & Angst, 1983; Schooler, 1972). In a recent review, Sullo-
way offered novel hypotheses about birth rank differences. Using
the Big Five personality dimensions (Costa & McCrae, 1985), he
claimed that firstborns are more achievement oriented, antagonis-
tic, anxious, assertive, conforming, extraverted, fearful, identified
with parents, jealous, neurotic, organized, planful, responsible,
self-confident, and traditional. Moreover, they tend to affiliate
under stress and are more likely than later-borns to assume lead-
ership positions. Later-borns are, according to Sulloway, more
adventurous, altruistic, cooperative, easygoing, empathetic, open
to experience, popular, rebellious, risk-taking, sociable, and
unconventional.
It is interesting to note that in their reviews, Ernst and Angst
(1983) and Sulloway (1996) arrived at opposite conclusions from
the same birth order research. Sulloway concluded that “the liter-
ature . . . exhibits consistent trends” (p. 74), whereas Ernst and
Angst concluded that “birth order influences . . . have been
widely overrated” (p. 242). In contrast, Harris (1998), who ques-
tioned the role of parental influence in personality development
Nicholas C. Herrera and R. B. Zajonc, Department of Psychology,
Stanford University; Grazyna Wieczorkowska and Bogdan Cichomski,
Department of Psychology, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.
Nicholas C. Herrera is now at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The present studies were supported by National Science Foundation
Grant SBR-9726886 to R. B. Zajonc. We thank Hazel Markus and Philip
Zimbardo for their suggestions. We also thank Greta Klevgard and the
students and teachers of Eleva–Strum Central High School for their help
with Study 2.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to R. B.
Zajonc, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, Cali-
fornia 94305-2130. E-mail: zajonc@psych.stanford.edu
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
2003, Vol. 85, No. 1, 142–150 0022-3514/03/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.1.142
142
altogether,
1
stated that popular stereotypes about birth rank
differences do exist and that they reflect empirical consistencies.
She pointed out that Sulloways description of the younger
brother(p. 374) as well as the results of studies reviewed by Ernst
and Angst in which parents were asked to describe their chil-
drens personalities or children were asked to describe their sib-
lings (p. 375) agree with popular stereotypes. According to Har-
ris, people believe that firstborns are serious, sensitive,
responsible, worried, and adult-oriented (p. 375), and later-borns
are independent, cheerful, and rebellious (p. 375). She also
found that second-borns view their elder siblings as bossy and
aggressive (p. 375).
Ernst and Angst (1983) reported that based partially on spec-
ulation or clinical and personal uncontrolled experience and par-
tially on research (p. 85), people believe firstborns to be adult
oriented, affiliative, conservative, creative, dependent, fearful, in-
trospective, uncertain, vulnerable, and interested in abstract
thought; that they tend to express anger indirectly; and that they
are likely to become leaders, even though they have low self-
esteem. Later-borns according to these authors, are ambitious,
empathizing, extraverted, harmonious, leisurely, peer oriented,
popular, inclined to new ideas, interested in practical problems,
and ready to cooperate; unlike firstborns, they tend to express
anger directly. Ernst and Angst derived these traits, primarily, from
Adlers theory of sibling rivalry (Adler, 1927, 1928).
In contrast to the ready conjectures about actual personality
differences associated with birth rank, studies of peoples beliefs
about birth rank differences in personality can be counted on the
fingers of one hand, and studies about the psychological origins of
these differences are, except for the original work of Alfred Adler
(1927), virtually nonexistent. Yet it is of no trivial interest to
determine the extent to which beliefs about birth order and actual
differences due to birth order are correlated with each other, for it
is a safe guess that some of the actual differences obtained for birth
order can be, at least in part, attributed to the social beliefs and
stereotypes about it and about their consequences. In an early study
of peoples beliefs, Baskett (1985) had 278 participants complete
three 50-item, 7-point adjective checklists. The checklists asked
them to describe what they would expect a child without brothers
or sisters, a child who was the oldest in his or her family, and a
child who was the youngest in his or her family to be like (p.
442). The lists included the following items: academic, adjusted,
adventurous, agreeable, altruistic, cooperative, creative, doesnt
seek attention, dominant, easily disciplined, extroverted, flexible,
good peer relations, happy, hard working, helping, high achiever,
independent, intelligent, leader, likeable, neat, not demanding, not
jealous, not prone to anger, not self-centered, not spoiled, obedi-
ent, organized, outgoing, outspoken, popular, relaxed, responsi-
ble, secure, self-confident, self-critical, sociable, socially skilled,
and tough. A factor analysis performed on the ratings yielded eight
factors: academic, likeable, not jealous, obedient, outgoing, secure,
relaxed, and unspoiled. Post hoc comparisons indicated that par-
ticipants believed that (a) firstborns are the most obedient, outgo-
ing, and secure and the least spoiled; (b) only children are the most
academic and spoiled and the least likeable; and (c) last-borns are
the most likeable but the least academic, obedient, outgoing, and
secure. Among other findings, Baskett reported that participants
described firstborns in more positive terms than only children or
later-borns and that there was some bias toward ones own sibling
status group (p. 443).
Two other studies have replicated most of Basketts (1985)
findings. Using the same checklists that were used by Baskett,
Musun-Miller (1993)
2
had 105 parents describe what they would
expect a hypothetical only, oldest, and youngest child to be like
. . . [and] to describe their own children (p. 191). A factor
analysis performed on the ratings yielded five factors: academic,
likeable, obedient, outgoing, and unspoiled. Post hoc comparisons
indicated that participants believed that (a) firstborns are the most
obedient and outgoing and the least spoiled; (b) only children are
the most academic and spoiled and the least likeable; and (c)
last-borns are the most likeable and the least academic, obedient,
and outgoing.
3
Among other findings, Musun-Miller also reported
that parents gave more positive ratings to firstborns.
In a more recent study, Nyman (1995) had 139 participants list
three words that described the characteristics of each birth posi-
tion (p. 53). Nyman found that participants described (a) first-
borns as achievers, aggressive, ambitious, caring, dominant, inde-
pendent, leaders, maternal, nurturing, responsible, and thoughtful;
(b) only children as independent, self-centered, selfish, and
spoiled; (c) middle-borns as achievers, ambitious, caring, friendly,
outgoing, and thoughtful; and (d) last-borns as caring, dependent,
friendly, outgoing, passive, spoiled, and thoughtful. In addition,
Nyman reported that firstborns received the most favorable ratings
and that participants ranked their own birth position in accor-
dance with the ways others viewed that position (p. 56).
The present studies sought to extend the previous research on
peoples beliefs and stereotypes about birth rank, but more impor-
tant, to explore the empirical reality of birth order differences and
their reflection in peoples beliefs. In Study 1, as an extension of
the studies by Baskett (1985) and Musun-Miller (1993), partici-
pants were asked about the personality traits of firstborns, only
children, middle-borns, and last-borns. In Studies 2 and 3, people
were asked about their beliefs about the kinds of occupations that
would likely be held by firstborns, only children, middle-borns,
and last-borns. Given that different personality patterns predispose
people to seek and be directed into different careers, Study 4
examined just what sorts of occupations people of different birth
rank do in fact hold and what was the level of their academic
attainment.
Study 1: Personality Attributions to Birth Rank
This study examined beliefs about personality and ability dif-
ferences in birth order. It differed from previous studies in a few
important ways. First, the participants in Musun-Millers (1993)
study and almost half of the participants in Basketts (1985) study
were parents, and most of the participants in Nymans (1995) study
1
Interestingly, Harris (1998) stated that firstborns behave like first
-
borns, and laterborns like laterborns, only when theyre in the presence of
their parents or their siblings... .Birth order effects on personality do
exist: they exist in the home. People leave them behind when they leave
home (p. 375).
2
Formerly L. M. Baskett.
3
Note that these findings are the same as those of Baskett (1985), with
the exception of the findings that participants believed that firstborns are
the most secure and last-borns are the least secure.
143
BELIEFS ABOUT BIRTH RANK
were either African American or Hispanic college students. The
participants in the present study were, for the most part, young,
childless, unmarried, and more representative of the ethnic diver-
sity of the United States. Second, the effects of ones own birth
rank on the participants judgments about the attributes of people
in their own and other ranks were investigated as well. Third,
unlike in the Baskett or Musun-Miller studies, peoples beliefs
about middle-borns were also obtained. Finally, self-attributions
were recorded to examine the possibility of self-serving biases.
Method
One hundred six (45%) of the participants were firstborns,
4
17 (7%)
were only children, 41 (18%) were middle-borns, 68 (29%) were last-
borns, and the birth rank of 2 (1%) of the participants is unknown.
Thirty-six participants had to be discarded because of missing data, leaving
a total of 196.
All participants (Stanford University undergraduates) completed four
11-item questionnaires that asked them to rate firstborns, only children,
middle-borns, last-borns, and yourself on 5-point (2 to 2) scales. These
ratings were made with respect to the following dimensions: agreeable
disagreeable, boldtimid, creativeuncreative, emotionalunemotional,
not enviousenvious, extravertedintroverted, intelligentunintelligent,
obedientdisobedient, responsibleirresponsible, stableunstable, and
talkativesilent.
Participants responded to each item by circling an answer; for example,
answers for the question about the agreeabledisagreeable dimension were
2 very agreeable,1 moderately agreeable,0 neither, 1
moderately disagreeable, and 2 very disagreeable. High scale values
were always assigned to the positive end of the dimension.
Results
Figure 1 shows the results. The 196 participants rated firstborns,
only children, middle-borns, last-borns, and themselves differently
on the 11 traits, F(40, 7760) 19.57, p .001. They believed that
(a) firstborns are the most intelligent, responsible, obedient, stable,
the least emotional, and quite clearly the least creative; (b) only
children are the most disagreeable; (c) middle-borns are the most
envious and the least bold and talkative; and (d) last-borns are the
most creative, emotional, extraverted, disobedient, irresponsible,
and talkative. Also, participants believed that the self exceeded all
ranks for agreeableness, intelligence, obedience, responsibility,
and stability.
It is of interest that personality ratings of the participants dif-
fered both from their own birth rank and from the birth rank of the
targets they judged. These data are shown in Table 1, where the
participantsjudgments ona2to2 five-point scale are tabulated.
The Targets Birth Order RatersBirth Order Trait interaction
was significant, F(120, 7760) 1.60, p .0001. In general, the
participants gave the most positive ratings to themselves as indi-
viduals (see Column Y in Table 1). Also, participants gave the
most positive ratings to people in the same rank as themselves.
This last finding can be seen in Table 1 by inspecting the figures
in bold along the diagonal. The following patterns of results are
also evident from Table 1.
1. Agreeabledisagreeable. The highest rating was given by
firstborns to themselves as individuals, and they also thought that
firstborns are the highest on this dimension. Middle-borns rated
themselves quite high on this dimension and also rated their own
rank the highest. Both only children and last-borns rated their own
rank quite low in agreeableness, but rated themselves, regardless
of their rank, individually quite high.
2. Boldtimid. All ranks rated last-borns as the boldest, and
firstborns rated themselves second highest on this dimension.
Middle-borns were conspicuously low in their rating of their own
rank, and other raters also thought of them as the least bold.
3. Creativeuncreative. Only children gave their own rank
the highest rating, but rated themselves below only children in
general. Firstborns believed last-borns to be the most creative, and
the last-borns themselves also believed that their rank was the most
creative.
4. Emotionalunemotional. Firstborns were viewed, in gen-
eral, as the least emotional by other ranks and by firstborn partic-
4
Note that the proportion of firstborns (i.e., 45%) exceeds the popula
-
tion norm by more than 15%.
Figure 1. Personality attributes assigned to birth ranks. Ratings were made on a scale from 2 (very)to0
(neither)to2(not at all). Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.
144
HERRERA, ZAJONC, WIECZORKOWSKA, AND CICHOMSKI
ipants as well. In fact, firstborns were attributed the lowest rating
on emotionality. Firstborns rated last-borns, and last-borns rated
their own rank, as quite emotional, and participants of other ranks
followed this rating as well.
5. Not enviousenvious. Participants of all ranks, except last-
borns, rated themselves individually as least envious. The ranks
that were rated as envious were middle-borns and last-borns.
6. Extravertedintroverted. Most of the ratings for this di-
mension were moderate, with the exception of last-borns, who
were rated highest on this dimension by all ranks.
7. Intelligentunintelligent. All participants rated their intel-
ligence as considerably higher than that of any of the four birth
ranks. All ranks rated firstborns as the highest in intelligence.
8. Obedientdisobedient. As with intelligence, all partici-
pants rated themselves individually higher in obedience than they
rated the four ranks. Firstborns thought of firstborns as the highest
in obedience, whereas last-borns thought of last-borns as the
lowest in obedience. In fact, all ranks gave low scores on obedi-
ence to last-borns. These ratings support Sulloways (1996) hy-
pothesis that last-borns are seen as rebellious.
9. Responsibleirresponsible. Sulloways (1996) rebel hy-
pothesis also predicts that last-borns are seen as quite irresponsi-
ble. Participants beliefs agree in this respect. Last-borns were
rated by all ranks as the least responsiblein fact, as irresponsible;
firstborns believed that their rank is the highest in responsibility;
and participants of all ranks rated themselves individually highest
on this dimension.
10. Stableunstable. Although all ranks rated themselves
individually as the highest in stability, last-borns were rated the
lowest. This finding was consistent with ratings of themselves
Table 1
Attributes Assigned by Various Ranks to the Various Ranks and to Self
Rater
Target
Rater
Target
FB OC MB LB Y FB OC MB LB Y
Agreeabledisagreeable
FB 0.60 0.46 0.39 0.12 1.14
OC 0.24 0.06 0.18 0.18 0.65
MB 0.10 0.62 0.85 0.32 1.20
LB 0.21 0.56 0.19 0.06 0.99
Boldtimid
FB 0.65 0.37 0.10 0.75 0.65
OC 0.59 0.35 0.24 0.76 0.69
MB 0.51 0.54 0.10 0.88 0.46
LB 0.53 0.18 0.07 0.49 0.44
Creativeuncreative
FB 0.45 0.46 0.56 0.66 0.77
OC 0.06 0.82 0.56 0.76 0.65
MB 0.18 0.43 0.66 0.73 0.80
LB 0.44 0.32 0.43 0.60 0.72
Emotionalunemotional
FB 0.25 0.52 0.52 0.63 0.40
OC 0.00 0.06 0.18 0.59 0.41
MB 0.17 0.88 0.02 0.83 0.24
LB 0.14 0.35 0.53 0.57 0.34
Not enviousenvious
FB 0.14 0.15 0.74 0.41 0.16
OC 0.19 0.69 0.76 0.18 0.63
MB 0.07 0.02 0.32 0.29 0.20
LB 0.24 0.14 0.47 0.18 0.12
Extravertedintroverted
FB 0.27 0.07 0.14 0.77 0.31
OC 0.50 0.12 0.29 0.71 0.25
MB 0.08 0.21 0.05 0.83 0.20
LB 0.26 0.07 0.06 0.54 0.40
Note. Ratings were made on scales from 2 to 2, with most positive ratings on the positive end of the scale. Boldface highlights ratings of people in the
same category as the rater. FB firstborn; OC only child; MB middle-born; LB last-born; Y self.
Stableunstable
FB 0.94 0.04 0.02 0.06 1.08
OC 0.71 0.71 0.00 0.18 1.06
MB 0.54 0.24 0.59 0.15 1.00
LB 0.38 0.12 0.03 0.32 0.96
Talkativesilent
FB 0.51 0.40 0.14 0.85 0.72
OC 0.53 0.53 0.00 0.94 0.59
MB 0.45 0.50 0.10 1.05 0.55
LB 0.43 0.31 0.18 0.63 0.62
Intelligentunintelligent
FB 1.04 0.64 0.43 0.52 1.49
OC 0.82 1.06 0.53 0.47 1.59
MB 0.93 0.59 0.83 0.63 1.41
LB 0.68 0.54 0.43 0.66 1.37
Obedientdisobedient
FB 0.98 0.04 0.09 0.71 1.11
OC 0.71 0.47 0.18 0.56 0.82
MB 0.46 0.27 0.32 0.73 1.02
LB 0.37 0.18 0.18 0.25 0.87
Responsibleirresponsible
FB 1.34 0.02 0.10 0.68 1.41
OC 0.76 0.56 0.12 0.47 1.56
MB 0.78 0.02 0.37 0.59 1.12
LB 0.78 0.13 0.21 0.10 1.15
145
BELIEFS ABOUT BIRTH RANK
individually. Firstborns rated firstborns as the highest in
stability.
11. Talkativesilent. No systematic patterns emerged for this
dimension.
These results generally support some of the findings of Baskett
(1985), Musun-Miller (1993), and Nyman (1995). Baskett (1985)
and Musun-Miller (1993) found that last-borns are believed to be
the least responsible. In the present study, the participants en-
dorsed the irresponsible side of the scale for last-borns. These
beliefs are also in overall agreement with Sulloways (1996)
hypothesis. Our data show a most interesting pattern, not previ-
ously reported, when we compare birth rank belief patterns for
intelligence and creativity. Whereas ratings of intelligence decline
with birth order, ratings of creativity increase.
This last finding is a clear indication that there is no overall
positivity bias favoring higher birth ranks, although a strong and
pervasive self-serving bias is evident for many attributes. Participants
rated themselves as the most agreeable, intelligent, and responsible.
They also rated themselves as relatively high on creativity and emo-
tionality. In most cases, these ratings varied with the participants own
birth rank. Firstbornsbeliefs about firstbornsintelligence, for exam-
ple, were biased in their own favor.
Study 2: Stereotypes About Occupation and Birth Rank:
The Wisconsin Sample
If one were to consider the personality attributes that might
afford paths to various occupations, individuals of higher birth
ranks should exhibit attributes likely to lead to occupations of
higher prestige more than individuals of lower birth ranks. The
findings of Study 1 suggest that firstborns are believed to exhibit
attributes that are likely to be regarded as necessary in occupations
requiring leadership and stability. On the other hand, last-borns,
being regarded as emotional, disobedient, talkative, and the least
responsible, would not qualify for positions of leadership and
occupations high in prestige. Because firstborns are believed to be
more intelligent than other ranks and because this belief has been
substantiated by data (e.g., Zajonc, 1983), we would expect first-
borns to enter into occupations in which what is viewed as intel-
ligenceis a necessary or desired qualification. If last-borns, on the
other hand, are seen as the most creative, as our data above show,
and again if the stereotype reflects reality, we should find a
preponderance of last-borns in occupations requiring creativity.
The primary purpose of this study was to sample peoples beliefs
regarding the likelihood that different birth ranks might enter each
of several occupations and to determine whether these beliefs
reflect a bias in occupational prestige for higher birth ranks. If
widespread beliefs about birth rank differences in occupational
attainment exist in a given culture, one would expect these differ-
ences to be reflected in personality and ability differences.
Method
Two hundred thirty-one students and 10 teachers from ElevaStrum Central
High School completed 25-item questionnaires that asked them whether a
firstborn or a last-born is more likely to work in each of several occupations.
Eleva and Strum are two small towns located about 20 miles south of Eau
Claire, Wisconsin, an agricultural area with many residents employed in Eau
Claire. One hundred seventeen (49%) of the participants were female, 123
(51%) were male, and the gender of 1 of the participants is unknown. All
but 10 of the participants were between the ages of 12 and 18 (M 16,
SD 7.1). The questionnaire included the following occupations, which are
ranked according to the Standard International Occupational Prestige Scale on
a scale from 0 to 100 (Treiman, 1977): firefighter (35), musician (45), pho-
tographer (45), farmer (47), stunt man (49), computer programmer (51), actor
(52), journalist (55), accountant (55), social worker (56), artist (57), police
officer (60), clergy (60), veterinarian (61), author (62), engineer (62), politician
(63), high school teacher (64), airline pilot (66), dentist (70), architect (72),
lawyer (73), college professor (78), physician (78), and astronaut (80). Partic-
ipants were simply asked whether a firstborn or a last-born was more likely to
work in each of the occupations.
Results
The results are shown in Figure 2. We found that participants
believed that a firstborn is more likely to work as an accountant
Figure 2. Birth rank stereotypes for occupations varying in prestige: the Wisconsin sample. The data are
average likelihood proportions distributed between first- and last-borns. Ratings were made on a scale from 0.5
(last-born)to0(either)to0.5 (firstborn). Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.
146
HERRERA, ZAJONC, WIECZORKOWSKA, AND CICHOMSKI
(55), airline pilot (66), architect (72), astronaut (80), college pro-
fessor (78), computer programmer (51), dentist (70), high school
teacher (64), lawyer (73), physician (78), politician (63), and
veterinarian (61).
5
They believed also that a last-born is more
likely to work as an actor (52), artist (57), clergy (60), firefighter
(35), journalist (55), musician (45), photographer (45), social
worker (56), and stunt man (49).
The average prestige rank of occupations attributed to firstborns
was 67.6, and that attributed to last-borns was 50.4. The correla-
tion between attributed prestige of occupation and birth rank was
.76.
Study 3: Stereotypes About Occupation and Birth Rank:
The Stanford Sample
Stereotypes about occupational prestige and its relationship to
birth rank may vary with class, race, gender, and especially the
region of the country. Study 2 examined a predominantly rural
Midwestern population. Study 3, therefore, sought to replicate
Study 2 on a rather different population.
Method
Participants (203 Stanford University undergraduates) completed an
11-item questionnaire that asked them whether a firstborn or a last-born is
more likely to work in each of several occupations. The list of occupations
included firefighter (35), musician (45), photographer (45), farmer (47),
stunt man (49), accountant (55), police officer (60), high school teacher
(64), lawyer (73), surgeon (78), and astronaut (80).
Results
The data (Figure 3) indicate that participants believed a firstborn
was more likely to work as an accountant (55), astronaut (80),
farmer (47), lawyer (73), police officer (60), and surgeon (78).
They believed a last-born was more likely to work as a firefighter
(35), high school teacher (64), musician (45), photographer (45),
and stunt man (49). The average occupational prestige ranking
assigned to firstborns was 65.5, and that assigned to last-borns
was 47.6.
With few exceptions, these findings, shown in Figure 3, are
consistent with the results of Study 2. However, unlike Study 2,
Study 3 found that participants believed that (a) a firstborn is more
likely to work as a farmer, (b) a last-born is more likely to work as
a high school teacher, and (c) a firstborn is more likely to work as
a police officer. Yet as in Study 2, Study 3 found that firstborns are
believed to have more prestigious occupations than last-borns. In
this study, the correlation between the average birth rank and the
occupational prestige scores was .73, very near the value of the
coefficient obtained in Study 2.
Recall that in Study 1, last-borns were regarded as the most
creative of all the birth ranks. Consistent with this belief, they were
also believed to become actors, artists, musicians, and photogra-
phers, as seen in Study 2, and musicians and photographers, as
seen in Study 3. Also, in both Studies 2 and 3, the last-born was
predicted to become a stunt man, a prediction consistent with the
5
The occupations in Figures 2 and 3 are ranked according to the
Standard International Occupational Prestige Scale (Treiman, 1977).
Figure 3. Birth rank stereotypes for occupations varying in prestige: the Stanford sample. The data are average
likelihood proportions distributed between first- and last-borns. Ratings were made on a scale from 0.5
(last-born)to0(either)to0.5 (firstborn). Error bars represent standard errors of the mean.
147
BELIEFS ABOUT BIRTH RANK
fact that of all the ranks, last-borns obtained the highest rating on
the boldtimid dimension. Firstborns were viewed as likely to be
responsible. Thus, in Studies 2 and 3, they were believed to be
more likely to become police officers, accountants, lawyers, and
physicians.
Study 4: Actual Occupational Prestige and Level of
Academic Attainment of the Various Birth Ranks
Do higher birth ranks in fact afford paths to higher social status
reflected in higher occupational prestige and more advanced scho-
lastic attainment? In Study 4 we compared the various birth ranks
for the occupational prestige they actually attained and the years of
schooling they actually completed. Study 4 used data from the
Polski Generalny Sondaz˙ Społeczny (Polish General Social Survey
[PGSS]) conducted on a large representative cross-section sample
of the Polish population (Cichomski, 2001). The data also included
the variable of family size, a close correlate of birth order (Zajonc,
1983).
In Studies 2 and 3, the correlations between birth rank and the
prestige scores of the occupations the different birth ranks were
believed to attain were at robust levels. Are then higher birth ranks
in fact more likely to enter into occupations higher in prestige than
lower birth ranks? It is known that firstborns are more likely than
later-borns to become chiefs of states and executive officers (Sul-
loway, 1996). Is this relationship general over occupations and
birth ranks? Are offspring of smaller families likely to achieve
greater prestige in their occupational careers, as Blake (1989)
suggested? Similarly, occupational prestige builds on school at-
tainment. Hence, years of school completed were also expected to
be higher for higher birth ranks and for offspring of smaller
families.
Method
A sample of respondents representative of the Polish population, at
least 18 years of age, were interviewed in 1997 and 1999 as part of the fifth
and sixth PGSS conducted by the Institute for Social Studies at the
University of Warsaw. Every 2 years, the PGSS collects data on a repre-
sentative sample of the Polish population, data that are very similar to that
collected by the Chicago National Opinion Research Center. PGSS often
includes information about the birth order and occupational prestige of the
respondents.
A detailed description of the method for selecting the PGSS sample is
contained at the PGSS Web site (http://www.iss.uw.edu.pl/osrodki/obs/
pgss/en/index.html). PGSS strictly follows the constraints of national sur-
veys. The successive surveys are conducted at the same time of the year,
May–June. The sample selected is checked for its correspondence to the
national demographics, and technical features of question design and
interview process are meticulously observed. The field research is carried
out by a network of professional interviewers of the Zakład Badan´
Naukowych Polskiego Towarzystwa Socjologicznego (Department of Sci-
entific Research of the Polish Sociological Association; PGSS, 1992) and
the Os´rodek Realizacji Badan´ Socjologicznych Instytutu Filozofii i So-
ciologii Polski (Center for Sociological Field Research at the Institute of
Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Science; PGSS, 1993, 1994,
1995).
A computer-based coding of occupations used two parallel classifica-
tions: Polska Socjologicana Klasyfikacja Zawado´w (the Polish Social
Classification of Occupations; Doman´ski, Sawin´ski, & Kucharska, 1995)
and an International Standard Classification of Occupations (1990). Both
were based on Treiman’s (1977) original work. Years of school completed
was based on the respondents’ answers in the interview, sporadically
checked for their reliability.
Results
Figure 4 shows average occupational prestige attained by re-
spondents of the various birth ranks and family sizes. Because
occupational prestige is correlated with the age of the respondents,
analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) with age as covariate were
carried out to test these effects. Occupational prestige was found to
vary significantly with birth order and with family size, F(4,
2899) 4.01, p .003, and F(4, 2441) 12.83, p .001,
respectively. The trend is not entirely monotone for birth order,
probably because of the instability of data for the lowest birth rank
(i.e., there are few families with five or more members). The
family size data, however, show a consistent decline in occupa-
tional prestige. The standard errors for birth rank and family size
were 0.28 and 0.30, respectively. All differences except between
Ranks 2 and 3 and Ranks 4 and 5 were significant. Variations with
family size were reliable without exception.
Years of school completed as they vary with birth rank and
family size are shown in Figure 5. Again, ANCOVAs with age of
the respondent as covariate were carried out on the data. Years of
schooling as a function of birth order and family size were both
significant, F(4, 3245) 8.31, p .0001, and F(4, 2743) 22.58,
p .0001, respectively. The standard errors for birth rank and
family size were 0.055 and 0.058, respectively. Except for Ranks 4
and 5, all other birth order and family size means were signifi-
cantly different from each other.
Study 4 was based on a population of different culture and
nationality than Studies 1, 2, and 3. The comparability of the
results, however, can be taken for granted. Consistent birth order
and family size differences in intellectual performance, like those
reported here, have been repeatedly found not only for American
Figure 4. Occupational prestige actually attained by various birth ranks,
rated on a scale from 0 to 100. Error bars represent standard errors of the
mean.
148
HERRERA, ZAJONC, WIECZORKOWSKA, AND CICHOMSKI
populations but also for several diverse ethnic and cultural groups.
Thus, similar patterns of effects have been reported for Dutch
(Belmont & Marolla, 1973), Israeli (Davis, Cahan, & Bashi, 1977),
English (Douglas, 1964), Irish (Eysenck & Cookson, 1970),
French (Tabah & Sutter, 1954), Belgian (Nuttin, 1970), Scottish
(Scottish Council for Research on Education, 1949), Columbian
(Velandia et al., 1978), and Nigerian (Zajonc, Berbaum, Hamill,
Moreland, & Akeju, 1980) participants, as well as several others.
Also, Treiman (1977) reported that occupational prestige hierar-
chies are similar throughout the world. He found that the average
inter-country occupational prestige correlation (computed over 55
countries) is .81 (p. 166).
General Discussion
The present studies found that people have definite beliefs that
can well qualify as stereotypes about birth rank differences in
occupation and personality and that these beliefs have a fair
correspondence to actual differences in occupational prestige and
academic attainment, at least in Poland. These results suggest that
in some domains, peoples beliefs and stereotypes may have im-
portant psychological and, most likely, behavioral and social con-
sequences and that beliefs about birth rank, therefore, may well
influence decisions in a variety of important domains.
Study 1 sought to isolate peoples beliefs about the link between
birth order and personality attributes and found that (a) firstborns
are believed to be the most intelligent, obedient, stable, and re-
sponsible and the least emotional; (b) only children are believed to
be the most disagreeable; (c) middle-borns are believed to be the
most envious and the least bold and talkative; and (d) last-borns
are believed to be the most creative, emotional, extraverted, dis-
obedient, irresponsible, and talkative. These results are consistent
with Baskett (1985) and Musun-Millers (1993) findings that first-
borns are believed to be the most obedient, only children are
believed to be the least likeable, and last-borns are believed to be
the least obedient. They are also consistent with Nymans (1995)
finding that firstborns are believed to be responsible and last-borns
are believed to be outgoing and friendly, and with Sulloways
(1996) hypothesis that last-borns are the most rebellious and
disobedient.
Not found previously are the striking differences between be-
liefs about the intelligence and creativity of firstborns and last-
borns. Whereas high intelligence was attributed to firstborns, last-
borns were believed to be the most creative but not as intelligent.
The occupations believed to be held by these ranks were consistent
with the personality traits attributed to these ranks. Thus, for
example, firstborns were expected to be lawyers and physicians
whereas last-borns were expected to be artists, actors, musicians,
and photographers. These data indicate that personality traits at-
tributed to the various birth ranks are not simply a matter of a
strong positivity bias favoring higher birth ranks but do discrimi-
nate among specific traits and abilities.
Studies 2 and 3 both found that beliefs and stereotypes about
birth rank accord occupations higher in prestige to higher ranks
than to lower ranks. Moreover, the kinds of occupations believed
to be held by individuals of different birth ranks were found to be
consistent with the characterological and personality differences
attributed by the participants. Study 4 found that in fact individuals
of higher birth rank and of smaller families actually do attain
positions of higher prestige. Study 4 found a systematic increase in
number of years of school completed as a function of birth rank
and family size, a condition that increases the likelihood of favor-
able socioeconomic attainment, another finding consistent with the
beliefs about the personality dispositions of the various ranks.
In their reviews of the birth order literature, both Schooler
(1972) and Ernst and Angst (1983) concluded that evidence of
birth order differences is inconsistent and weak. Although the
Figure 5. Years of school actually completed by various birth ranks. Error bars represent standard errors of the
mean.
149
BELIEFS ABOUT BIRTH RANK
present studies do not challenge these researchers conclusions
regarding actual personality differences associated with birth rank,
they do suggest that peoples beliefs in such differences show
strong and consistent patterns, replicable over diverse populations.
More important with respect to hard outcomes, such as actual
occupational prestige attained or years of school completed, the
results are significant. The difference between firstborns and fifth-
borns in the years of school completed is over 1 year. Traditional
explanations of birth rank differences have focused on differential
parental treatment of children of different birth orders (Paulhus,
Trapnell, & Chen, 1999, p. 482; see Adler, 1927, 1928; Schachter,
1959; Zajonc, 1983) and competition among siblings as they fight
for a family niche (Paulhus et al., 1999, p. 482; see Sulloway,
1996). The present studies add an additional focus on peoples
beliefs about and social representations of birth order. It is entirely
possible that peoples beliefs about birth rank differences may
induce differences in parents expectations for their own children
and about other people in general. They may also induce differ-
ences in the attributions about their childrens abilities and behav-
ior. As a result, people may react differently to firstborn and
later-born children
6
and may differentially reinforce and shape
child behavior that fits within these stereotypes(Baskett, 1985, p.
444). That behavior, in turn, might strengthen their beliefs.
6
Ernst and Angst (1983) concluded that differential socialization by
birth order...hasbeen well established at least for first-borns in compar-
ison to second-borns and at infancy and preschool age (p. 187).
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Received September 6, 2002
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150
HERRERA, ZAJONC, WIECZORKOWSKA, AND CICHOMSKI
... Since, there has been growing research evincing the influence of birth order on behaviors, actions, and outcomes of individuals (Kluger, 2011). The long tradition of birth order research has focused on the effects of birth order on personality, intelligence, achievement, and behaviors of various populations and samples (Herrell, 1972;Herrera, et al., 2003;Rohrer, et al., 2015; Venkteshwar & Warrier, 2017). ...
... The firstborn children are usually depicted as leaders who comply with rules and established hierarchy (Adler, 1937;Leman, 2009). Herrera's et al. (2003) study showed that firstborns are perceived as more intelligent and the least emotional and creative. They are good team players and they are thorough in collecting information and facts when they deal with problem solving (Leman, 2009). ...
... Lastborns are more people-oriented and uncomplicated who easily operate in social settings (Leman, 2009). Herrera et al. (2003) assert that lastborns are more creative, emotional, extraverted, disobedient, irresponsible, and talkative. Lastborns occupy a special position in the family (Adler, 1937), are more spoiled (Leman, 2009), and are perceived to be highly agreeable, altruistic, warm, and tender-minded (Saroglou & Fiasse, 2003). ...
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