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Birth Order and Twins

What is birth order?


One of the first questions that people often ask my twins is, "Who was born first?" This inquiry always annoys me, and it frustrates my daughters, as well. For one thing, they don't know which of them was born first! My husband and I haven't divulged that information because we didn't want it to become a point of contention in their relationship. We've always joked that we'd have an elaborate unveiling party and tell them on their twenty-first birthday. But as they grow up together, I don't think that they really care. So why does the world seem to care so much? Does birth order really have any relevance to twins?

What is birth order?

There has always been a lot of interest in the study of birth order and its impact on society. Certainly, throughout history, there have been occasions when determining a child's placement in the family was of utmost importance. The birthright of firstborns meant an opportunity to inherit family fortunes, even entire kingdoms, along with the burden of responsibility for the remaining family members.

Scientists have done some interesting studies to evaluate the role of birth order on the development of personality. Many agree with a 1998 study that said, "Children's perception of their place in the family constellation influences how they feel about themselves, and how they interact with others." (Kottman & Johnson, 1993 in Nims, 1998) Some studies have theorized that first born children have more self-esteem and higher IQ's while lastborns tend to be more relaxed and irresponsible.

Adlerian Birth Order Characteristics

Psychologist Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, defined a set of characteristics to describe how a child's position within the family would actualize in his or her personality. The table below presents a simplified version of his theories, adapted from the Adler Institute website.

Next: Is birth order relevant to twins?

Adlerian Birth Order Characteristics

Position Family Situation Characteristics
Oldest Dethroned by next child. Has to learn to share. Parent expectations are usually very high. Often given resposnsibility and expected to set an example. May become authoritarian or strict. Feels power is his right. Can become helpful if encouraged.
Second Has a pacemaker, always someone ahead. Is more competitive, wants to overtake older child. May become a rebel or try to outdo everyone. Competition can deteriorate into rivalry.
Middle Is "sandwiched" in. May feel squeezed out of a position of privilege and significance. Even-tempered, "take it or leave it" attitude. May have trouble finding a place or become a fighter of injustice.
Youngest Has many mothers and fathers in older children. Never dethroned. Wants to be bigger than the others. Can stay the "baby." Frequently spoiled.

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