We’ve all heard stereotypes about the baby in the family being spoiled or the middle child being ignored. Most of the time these turn out not to be true.
But what about the oldest child?
The oldest child is stereotypically known as the wisest child but researchers say this stereotype might actually be true. A study in the Journal of Human Resources finds that the oldest sibling scored higher on cognitive tests than their younger sibling does.
“We document birth order differences in cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes and maternal behavior from birth to adolescence using data from the Children of the NLSY79,” the study found.
“As early as age one, latter-born children score lower on cognitive assessments than their siblings, and the birth order gap in cognitive assessment increases until the time of school entry and remains statistically significant thereafter,” the study found.
Thousands of Americans aged 14 to 21-years-old were interviewed in 1979, then reinterviewed for the study.
“We were surprised by the finding that birth order differences in cognitive test scores and parental behavior appeared so early,” the study’s co-author Jee-Yeon K. Lehmann told TODAY.
The study found this could be due to differences in the type of parenting the kids receive.
“First-time parents tend to want to do everything right and generally have a greater awareness of their interactions with and investments in the firstborn,” Lehmann explained. “With each subsequent child, parents tend to relax to a greater extent what they might deem as non-essential needs for their kids.”
It’s not that they love their younger children less, it’s just that they do things differently.
“Mothers take more risks during pregnancy and are less likely to breastfeed and to provide cognitive stimulation for latter-born children. Variations in parental behavior can explain most of the differences in cognitive abilities before school entry/ Our findings suggest that broad shifts in parental behavior from first to latter-born children is a plausible explanation for the observed birth order differences in education and labor market outcomes,” the study says.
The study also found that families could face more time restrictions and fewer resources, which can attribute to changes in behavior or opportunities for the younger children.
The study also found that firstborns were more confident about themselves and in their academic performance.
“The lesson here for parents is that the types of investments that you make in your kids matter a lot, especially those that you make in the children’s first few years of life,” Lehmann said. “All those learning activities that you did with your first child as excited, nervous and over-zealous parents actually seem to have some positive, long-lasting impact on their development.”
While later-born children were found to have lower IQs, make less money, less likely to graduate from high school, and more likely to become a pregnant teen or be convicted of a crime, they were found to be healthier at birth than their older siblings.
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