Birth order, according to conventional wisdom, molds personality: Firstborn children, secure with their place in the family and expected to be the mature ones, grow up to be intellectual, responsible and conformist. Younger siblings work harder to get their parents’ attention, take more risks and become creative rebels.
That’s the central idea in psychologist Frank J. Sulloway’s “Born to Rebel,” an influential book on birth order that burst, like a water balloon lobbed by an attention-seeking third-born, onto the pop psychology scene two decades ago.
Birth order does not appear to influence personality in adults, according to several ambitious studies published in the past few years. This new wave of research relied on larger data sets and more robust statistical methods than earlier reports.
Researchers asked participants about driving too fast, unprotected sex and other dicey behaviors. The participants also performed simple experiments. [Psychologist Ralph] Hertwig gave the example of a game in which subjects had two options: receiving $10 (the safe choice) or gambling on a 10 percent chance to win $100.
“None of these behavioral measures showed any credible relationship between being a later-born and taking more risks,” the study authors wrote.
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