There Are Scientific Reasons Why The Firstborn Child Is The Smartest One

by John Haltiwanger

Do you have siblings? Have you ever felt like the firstborn child always seems to outdo you?

He gets better grades, she's the star athlete, he even got the lead in the school play.

Firstborn children are literally smarter, better, faster and stronger than you.

Okay, maybe they're just more intelligent, but we all know that nerds win in the end. Just look at Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Elizabeth Holmes or Albert Einstein (they're all firstborns too).

You hate to admit it, but your stupid (or rather, really intelligent) older sibling is definitely more successful than you.

Not to mention, every single time there's a large family gathering, everyone dotes on your oldest sibling and praises his or her accomplishments. All the while, you're left sitting in the corner, wearing his or her hand-me-down clothing and wondering where it all went wrong.

Well, you finally have someone to blame for your inadequacy: Your parents. Thanks for nothing Mom and Dad!

Firstborn Children Are More Intelligent... And It's Because Of Their Parents

According to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), firstborn children do better than their younger siblings in school.

Correspondingly, numerous studies have shown that firstborns are generally more intelligent and score higher on IQ tests. History has also gone to show that firstborns are more likely to become president. Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were all firstborns.

Not to mention, firstborns are also less likely to do drugs and get pregnant as teenagers. These aren't always impediments to success, however, so this doesn't necessarily give a full explanation as to why firstborns are such high achievers.

There is a number of theories as to why the first child typically exhibits higher cognitive abilities and performs better in school. For example, as Derek Thompson of the Atlantic notes, some might argue that it's genetic, in the sense that later kids are receiving diminished "genetic endowment."

Some also speculate that since older children are born first, they receive greater attention and care than younger kids. In turn, this fosters stronger development and a healthier brain.

Likewise, others theorize that some parents become so fed up with kids that they develop what is called "selection-bias." In other words, if you were the last one to pop out, your parents are so sick of the stress of having kids that they have an innate disdain for you.

From this standpoint, the parents favor their older children more because they were born before they were completely exhausted with the prospect of raising kids.

One of the most interesting theories argues that the oldest children do better in school because they grow smarter by teaching their young siblings. If you can teach, then you certainly understand and value the power of knowledge.

There is also what is often referred to as the "divorce theory." Simply put, divorce is quite common in today's society, but it's more likely to happen after the first child is born. Thus, the oldest child gets the benefit of not having their upbringing disrupted by a family crisis.

Parental Discipline Is Key To A Child's Academic Success

The recent NBER study, mentioned above, takes a different stance on this issue from the other theories. According to V. Joseph Hotz, one of the economists who completed the research for the study:

It comes down to parents' reputations for maintaining discipline with their kids. Reputations matter for politicians, teachers, and even used car salesmen. Less obvious, but still important, is a parent's reputation in their children's eyes.

In other words, it all depends on the way in which parents discipline their children. When a child does poorly in school and there are no parental consequences, or disciplinary actions, then they won't be motivated to do better.

For example, say a child repeatedly gets Ds on his report card but his parents don't place any restrictions on his activities. Regardless of academic performance, he is allowed to watch as much TV as he wants and his parents don't even express disappointment in his grades. This obviously won't inspire a child to work harder in the future.

The theory explains that parents are more likely to discipline the first child more, and become a bit more lax as they have more kids. This is why some have referred to this idea as the "lazy-parent theory."

No wonder the first child always complains that younger siblings have it easier...

This makes a lot of sense. All children want their parents approval. If this approval is predicated upon how well they do in school, then it goes without saying that they will work hard in scholastic pursuits. Furthermore, no child wants to have TV privileges taken away.

As with anything, there are exceptions to every rule. The firstborn child in every family doesn't always end up being the smartest or most successful. Yet, statistically, the majority of them do.

With that said, it's important to remember that children are too dynamic to be explained or codified by any single theory. Every family is different, and there is no single path toward success.

At the same time, perhaps parents can take something away from this. If you want all of your offspring to exhibit high levels of academic achievement, maintain consistent standards of discipline.

Attention Middle Children And Babies of the Family: All Is Not Lost!

It's dangerous to make generalizations about anything in this world. But, I hate to break it to all of the middle and youngest children out there, your oldest siblings have numbers on their side when it comes to smarts and success.

With that said, that doesn't mean you aren't also destined for greatness.

Middle children have a number of fantastic qualities. According to studies, middle children are commonly quite diplomatic, outgoing, natural mediators, competitive, flexible, amiable and decidedly social.

In other words, if you're a middle child, you're great at breaking up fights between the oldest and youngest siblings. This makes you great with people and a natural communicator. Not surprisingly, John F. Kennedy was a middle child, and so are Barbara Walters and David Letterman, among others.

As for the babies of the family out there, must you always be the center of attention?

Studies show that the youngest siblings are natural attention seekers, most likely because they were the last to appear and are desperate to be seen. Yet, this indefatigable desire to be noticed also fosters some pretty wonderful qualities.

The youngest children are often persistent, charming and affectionate. Unsurprisingly, Jim Carrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Eddie Murphy are all the youngest children in their families.

Take pride in the fact that no matter where you land in the family tree, you are unique. No one's path in this world is completely predetermined, we make our own luck.

Citations: Does Birth Order Really Matter (West Virginia University), First children are smarter but why (The Atlantic), Strategic Parenting Birth Order and School Performance (NBER), Why First Born Kids Do Better In School (Slate), Study that says first borns are smarter leads to debate among parents (CNN), Birth Order and Intelligence (Human Intelligence), BIRTH ORDER AND RISKY ADOLESCENT BEHAVIOR (Economic Inquiry), The Consequences of Teenage Childbearing (The Economic Journal)