Birth Order and Personality Alfred Adler -1937) Term Paper

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Birth Order and Personality

Alfred Adler (1870-1937), an Austrian psychiatrist, was one of the first theorists to suggest that Birth Order has an enormous affect on an individual's style of life, friendship, love, and work. But ever since Adler proposed that there are birth order personalities, other studies have been devised that prove additional factors may influence a child's attitude and adjustment as he or she grows to be an adult. These other strong factors are: parental attitudes; organ inferiority, illness, and disability; gender confusion; or social, economic and religious circumstances. Whether a child is born first, second, middle or youngest does have some effect on how they see themselves, barring any major problems in the above areas. There are some areas where birth order has a definite effect. For instance, research on ordinal position shows first-born children are more likely to go to college than children in any other position in the family (Birth 2007).

A number of researchers say birth order determines how one fits into one's family, has a big influence on how one will act, how well one does in school and how much money one will make, as first-borns tend to earn the most. Birth order definitely influences personality, said Adler, Sulloway and many other researchers in the field. The question that this research is seeking to answer is how much does it affect one's attitude and actions toward life?

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Many researchers attempting to prove or disprove the sole effects of birth order, cite the complexity of other influences besides simple order of birth. Adler suggested that birth order does not create direction in personality development, but may be used by individuals as a building block for their freely chosen style of life and imagined final goal. For instance, in the Cowan home, a North Carolina family who agreed to let 20/20 videotape some of their family interactions, the first-born child, Jonathan, is very serious, while his younger sister, Ellen, likes to torture their youngest brother, Jameson. These three children are the perfect example of the stereotypical first, middle and youngest child.

Term Paper on Birth Order and Personality Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Assignment

Most researchers say that being first-born makes one more responsible. In the 20/20 program Jonathan is taped intervening in his younger siblings' fight and drags his sister to the kitchen, to tell his mother to discipline her. Jonathan agrees he's responsible. He says it's his job to help parent his younger siblings. "You have to watch over them when the parents are gone," he said (Stossel, 2007). Some paradigms and perspectives are outlined below in the examination of past research and their resulting theories.

Sulloway's Theories look at the literature on the subject of birth order turns up two or three theories on the subject. One of them is by Frank Sulloway, author of Born to Rebel. His 1997 book provides a detailed statistical analysis of thousands of individuals' responses to 28 scientific innovations, such as Darwinism, Copernican revolution, Einstein's theory of relativity, and others. Sulloway finds most of these have been initiated and championed by later-borns, and that first-borns tend to reject new ideas. Sulloway claims later-borns often can't do what their older siblings do, so they tend to rebel and trying to find other ways to get attention, even dangerous ways. "Younger siblings are more inclined to try these experimental, sometimes dangerous things," said Sulloway (Sulloway, 1997, p. 55).

Younger brothers tend to be rebellious and to lead rebellions. Sulloway points out leaders of revolutions, such as Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx and Fidel Castro were rebellious younger brothers. Older brothers tend to be more conservative, such as former Presidents Carter and Clinton. These two presidents' younger brothers, Billy Carter and Roger Clinton, tried more daring, but less lofty pursuits. Billy had a beer-making business, and Roger tried a singing career, both far cries from trying to become president. Younger siblings "tend to pick interests that are diametrically opposite to those of their older siblings. They're the risk takers, the adventurers, the people who are constantly trying to find something new and different to do," says Sulloway. Sulloway also says later-borns rebel by choosing different professions from their older siblings. Later-borns rebel because they're controlled by the first-born. "Typical first-born strategy is to use the advantages of age, size and power to dominate a younger sibling" (Sulloway, 1997, p. 608).

Conley's and Others'Theories

But Dalton Conley, author of the Pecking Order, another book on the effects of birth order, says, "birth order makes about as much sense as astrology, which is almost none.." The Pecking Order talks about how many other factors affect the behavior of first-borns and last-borns much more strongly than birth order. Conley responds to Sulloway's data with the claim that it is quite selective, relying on cases that support his claims and ignoring those that don't. "Early death of a parent, timing of economic shocks to the family, gender expectations and roles in the family, you name it," it claims, "outside influences, random events -- birth order is basically at the bottom of that list" (Conley, p. 5) .

In his book Born to Rebel, Frank Sulloway suggests that birth order effects on the Big Five aspects of personality (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) are strong and consistent. He argues that firstborns to be more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable, and less open to new ideas compared to laterborns. However, critics such as Fred Townsend, Toni Falbo, and Judith Rich Harris, claim to have refuted Sulloway's theories (John, p. 66).

In their book Sibling Relationships: Their Nature and Significance across the Lifespan Michael E. Lamb, Brian Sutton-Smith, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates make the point that sibling relationships often last an entire lifetime. They point out that the lifespan view proposes that development is continuous, with individuals continually adjusting to the competing demands of socialization agents and endogenous tendencies (Lamb, 1982).

Adler's Evolutionary Theory of Birth Order states that competition between species, within species and within genders for status, power, resources and mates are what evolution depends on. "There is competition also within the species between the genders for less relative investment in their offspring. Within the species there is competition between parents and children for resources. Within species and between siblings there is competition for power and resources" (Stossel, p. 3).

While siblings compete for emotional, physical and intellectual resources from the parents, certain "niches" in the family are available. Depending on sibling position, they try different patterns of adaptation and different personalities to fit into these niches. The adult personality is determined by how the child adapts to the niche in the family and is also a strong determinant of their thought and behavior out in the world. (Stossel, p. 3).

Dattner and Theories about the First-born

Ben Dattner is a business consultant and professor at New York University. Dattner believes there is a greater probability that first born children will support the status quo relative to later born siblings, and tend to be more extroverted, confident and assertive,. Negatively, they tend to be conformist, politically conservative, authoritarian, dominant and inflexible. First-born tend to be task-oriented, conscientious and disciplined. However, they are concerned about and fearful of losing position and rank and defensive about their errors and mistakes (Dattnet, p. 3)

Research shows that as the first-born is an only child for period of time; and used to being center of attention. The first-born also: a) Believes they must gain and hold superiority over other children. b) Believes that being right, and controlling others is important. c) May respond to the birth of a second child by feeling unloved and neglected. d) Strives to keep or regain their parents' attention through conformity. e) if this fails, the first-born chooses to misbehave. f) May either develop competent, responsible behavior or become very discouraged. g) Sometime strives to protect and help others. h) Strives to please (Birth, p. 4).

While Dattner finds lots of variation in the first-born, Sulloway's studies generally show that firstborns are more conscientious than later-borns, a difference that is exemplified by their being more responsible, ambitious, organized, and academically successful. Later-borns emerge as being more agreeable than firstborns, in the sense of being more tender-minded, accommodating, and altruistic (Sulloway, 2001, p. 46).


Dattner claims that second-born children cannot occupy the first-born's niche, so they tend to be less responsible, but open to new experiences, rebellious and unconventional. They are more likely to embrace change and innovation and focus on relationships. Less academic, they are better at using social intelligence and humor. Second-born children may take on first-born attributes if there is a high degree of conflict between the first-born and the parents or if the first-born is disabled or extremely shy (Dattner, p. 7).

The mainstream research indications are that the second-born: a) Never has the parents' undivided attention. c) Always has a sibling ahead of them who is more advanced. c) Acts as if they are in a race, always trying to catch up or overtake the first child. d) if the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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