Birth Order Doesn’t Affect Personality, But It Can Confer Intellectual Benefits

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Firstborns tend to receive the most

There are all kinds of stereotypes about birth order out there: the youngest is the spoiled "baby" and the middle child is the ignored one. The oldest child tends to be the wisest, people often say—and they might actually be right, TODAY reports.

A study published in the Journal of Human Resources suggests that the firstborn child might have a better path to academic and intellectual success. The advantage, the researchers say, starts extremely early. Firstborn babies and toddlers already perform better on cognitive exams than younger siblings at the same age, and they theorize that a "broad shift in parenting" is the likely cause.

“We were surprised by the finding that birth order differences in cognitive test scores and parental behavior appeared so early,” said co-author and economist at the Boston-based Analysis Group Jee-Yeon K. Lehmann to TODAY.

“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 said. "With each subsequent child, parents tend to relax to a greater extent what they might deem as non-essential needs for their kids.”

The study found that, while parents on average express the same amount of care and affection to all of their kids, firstborns typically receive the most mental stimulation. Families are unable to maintain the same level of cognitive engagement for subsequent children, the researchers write. Parents devote less time reading to and teaching children after their first, and they're less likely to give them mentally stimulating toys or activities.

Read the full story here.