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Will you make six-figures? It may depend on your birth order

What your sibling status says about you and your career

The influence of birth order on personality, intelligence and achievements has long been debated. Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler, born in 1870, is said to have been one of the first to link birth order to one’s personality and direction in life. His research spurred a plethora of other studies, some with overlapping conclusions and others that contradict.  

My experience as the youngest in a family of three girls matches up with what much of the research says about last-born children. My parents were a lot more lenient with me. I tended to get my way, often to the chagrin of my older sisters. I suppose some of that could have been attributed to my knack for whining incessantly until my parents would just give up, but I digress.

According to several studies, I was actually at a disadvantage as the youngest, and my oldest sister pretty much had it made. If you’re the firstborn, you generally have an advantage and are often more educated and successful than your latter-born siblings. A study by a group of Norwegian researchers concluded that the IQ of firstborn children is, on average, three points higher than that of non-firstborns.

Birth order can also affect what career path you take and how successful, at least monetarily, you’ll be. A new CareerBuilder study examined how workers compare in terms of chosen profession, title and salary based on birth order and sibling status. According to the survey, my youngest-in-the-family status means I tend to prefer creative roles and gravitate toward editing/writing jobs.

Curious to know more? Here is a breakdown of common personality traits and career paths based on birth order:

Personality: Firstborn children have the advantage of being the only child for a certain period of time; thus, they get their parents’ full attention. They tend to be reliable and conscientious and strive to achieve. Katherine Crowley, a Harvard-trained psychotherapist specializing in workplace issues and co-author of “Working with You Is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work,” says firstborns like to know what the rules are, and once their younger brothers or sisters arrive, they like to take charge.   

Career: The CareerBuilder study found that firstborn children are the most likely to earn six figures and hold a C-level position (e.g., CEO, chief financial officer and senior vice president). Firstborns tend to gravitate toward jobs in government, information technology, engineering and science.

Middle or second child
Personality: “Second-borns arrive and someone is already in the forefront — a sibling,” Crowley says. “Their development includes noticing what the firstborn is doing and trying to carve out their own territory.” They tend to be people pleasers, and their middle-of-the-sibling-pack status means they’re often pros at negotiation and mediation.

Career: At work, they generally make good team players, facilitators and researchers, the CareerBuilder study notes. A middle child is the most likely to report holding an entry-level position and earning less than $35,000. Middle children lean toward public service and caretaking roles, including law enforcement,  firefighting, construction, education and personal care.

Last born
Personality: Last-borns often get the short end of the stick when it comes to recognition of their achievements, since their parents have less time to spend doting on them. But since they are the last ones to arrive, they are the “babies,” and they can use that status to get their own way. Crowley notes these children are the free spirits, entertainers and creative minds of the family.  

Career: The last-born child is the most likely to work in middle management and prefer more creative roles and technology. Crowley notes that last-borns succeed in middle management roles because they are good at both managing up and managing down. Common job types include art/design/architecture, editing/writing, information technology and sales

Only child
Personality: According to the Child Development Institute, a California-based agency that offers programs and services for children and parents, only children may be spoiled and self-centered, since they have no siblings to compete with. They are often mature for their age, likely due to the large amount of solo time they spend with their parents.

Career: An only child has a higher tendency toward working in technical and health-related fields and protective services. An only child is also likely to earn six figures and hold a C-level position. However, they are less likely to be satisfied in their jobs than workers with brothers and sisters. Only children tend to pursue careers in information technology, engineering, nursing and law enforcement.

Of course, there are always exceptions to these theories. And while much can be said about birth order and its impact, many other factors contribute to making people who they are.

 By Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer

One Comment

  1. Very interesting article indeed! My oldest sister is very gifted, successful, easy going artist with great psychological depth. My middle sister is a rich hard working dentist, a $ sign means everything to her. I am the youngest one, quite successful R&D worker with creativity and problem solving ability being my greatest assets, as all of me bosses i ever worked for have publicly stated or written to me. My $ consciousness is extremely low – for me, the $ does not need to exist at all. I feel rich just by working on exciting projects.

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