SURVEY SAYS: Birth Order and Career Success

Studies indicate that first-born children and only children tend to be more successful in their careers than middle children or the last-born.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers in which birth order they fall, and whether this finding is true in their families.

More responding readers reported being a first-born child (38.6%) than any other category. Nearly 31% are middle-children, 26.3% are last-borns and 4.4% are only children.

Among responding readers that are not only children, 28.2% indicated that the first-born in their family is most successful in his/her career, while 19.1% said it is a middle child, and 17.3% said the last-born is most successful. A tie between first-born and a middle-child or children was reported by 6.4% of respondents, as was a tie between first-born and last-born. A tie between a middle-child or children and last-born was reported by 9.1% of respondents, as was a tie between all three.

Two things came out of comments left by readers who chose to do so: Many NewsDash readers come from large families, and many have opinions about this subject. Yes, my question left respondents to decide what the definition of career success is, and a number of readers pointed out that the answer to my question depends on how one defines career success. Also, if the verbatim comments are any indication, the studies’ findings are NOT the norm. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said: “First and middle are successful in our chosen careers and financially, youngest is an old hippy living in the woods little stress or debt. Maybe he is most successful.” 

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey!


I'm an only child so no one to compare to but I would consider myself successful for my age. My husband is the first born and his sister (2nd born) is the most successful right now.

Of five of us, firstborn put in a lot of energy, but it just didn't pay off. Last born, little energy and too many challenges. As the best part of the sandwich - in the middle--I am by far the most successful.

I have worked since I was 16 and now I am 48, I have had a great career. My only sibling is a stay at home mom with being a mother and volunteer as her chosen career. She married a successful engineer and his compensation generously compensates her for not working outside of the home.

I'm the middle child, female, sandwiched between two males. The oldest brother did not go to college and had blue collar jobs that didn't pay well. The younger brother and I both have master degrees, but I have the most steady career and continuous employment. I am also the only one with children and the real need for a better income. That is a great motivator, especially after a divorce.

My children are exhibiting the exact opposite of the norm. My youngest is very successful in her work life. The eldest....well, she is still finding herself. Hopefully she succeeds before I retire!

While I'm the oldest, my sister is a Doctor - enough said.......

My brother, the eldest is very successful. I am the next born - 4 years later, followed immediately by another sibling and then 9 years later the baby sibling. In a sense, I am the 'first born' of us last three. I have a very successful career. In fact my older brother and I are very competitive (in a good way), however the last two have not had successful careers and have made 'interesting' life choices. I don't know if this has anything to do with birth order.

Define success - is it $ or happiness??

I'm last born of 3 and most successful. My spouse is first born of three with the last born being most successful in her family. My first born child of 2 is most successful currently.

While I may be deemed more successful professionally with my executive management position, higher earnings, etc., my sister with her less "prestigious" job title and earning considerably less, has her summers off, a vacation home and many more hours to spend in pursuit of her hobbies, friends, and family. I know who I consider more successful ... and it isn't little ole tired, stressed out me!

We each define success differently, and we have all been equally successful according to our own definition.

I was the fifth of 8. All were successful had three teachers, 2 stay at home moms who raised wonderful kids so very successful, 1 Trust Officer, 1 School Secretary, and 1 Beer Distributor he probably had the most fun in his job!

If success is measured by title and salary then I, the last born child in my family of origin, and my husband, last born in his family, are both more successful than our siblings.

15 years difference between First-born and Last-born, both are female. Last born saw the need for higher education.

We have quite different talents and each of us has tried to make the best of the best one given. If I'm near as successful with mine as they are with theirs, then, I'm sure they're as proud of me as I am of them. Of course, we still occasionally act like mom/dad aren't watching.

Verbatim (cont.) 

This was hard to answer without defining "successful." I may be more successful in a traditional sense, but my older sister has chosen a life less traditional, so is equally successful in her own way.

Out of four children all have college degrees and 2 have masters. If success is based on earnings the middle child is more successful. All did what they wanted and were all successful.

One of the middle children and myself - last born - are the most successful. Although, one of the other middle-born sibling was able to retire early. So, I guess she is the most successful of of us all!

I have no idea how to answer this survey. I was an only child until my mom married. Their marriage made me the youngest of 4. Until they had my little sister and I ended up in the middle.

My big sister has always been driven to succeed - a workaholic. I've always been driven to keep my job and do well enough to get by. My two brothers, born in between us, fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum of ambition.

I think this largely depends on your definition of success, what might not look like success to you, can be to another.

I come from a family with 6 children. Of the six I would say 4 were very successful while 2 less so. The oldest is a workaholic which I don't consider to be a component of success.

I'm the last of 12. All of us are successful. Policemen, Firemen, Execs., union workers and all but 2 are retired and living a healthy retirements. I hope to enjoy a healthy retirement in the next 5 years.

First born was least successful in my family.

My parents did not take any actions to assist any of us with our education while we were young. I worked and paid for 100% of my college education myself and enjoy a successful career because I have "drive and ambition" and enjoy what I do. The middle child in my family, did the same thing but she took the approach that having a family came first and completed her degree later in life and then became a teacher. Who is to say she is less successful in her career than I am? She earns less cash and less promotions but has a significant impact on children. Her success is shown in the success of her students. Her priorities were different ( People vs Money/Title/Position) The youngest child in our family serves in the military reserves and has an hourly job, he might be seen as the least successful in terms of how much money he makes but he serves our country. How is he any less successful than his siblings? The real question is about birth order and what that person feels they need to be successful in their career and what they are willing to give up to get it.

I wholeheartedly believe first born children are more successful. This is not the case all of the time, but I would say any study of statistical value would show that predominately, first borns are more ambitious, more successful, etc. Both my husband and I are first borns and we are significantly more successful in all facets of life as compared to our siblings.

While I consider myself successful, I pale in comparison to my oldest brother, but most of the world would.

I am the third of five children. All of us have been successful, but the fourth born and I are clearly the most successful.

Middle child ended up best off -- she married well. (Assuming $ is your measure of success.)

I guess it depends on what you mean by more successful. My older sibling is a teacher, so she makes less money. I would consider making more money more successful, but her career is probably more fulfilling than mine working with retirement plans!

Verbatim (cont.) 

I am the 2nd child in a family of 7, and am the most successful.

It depends on how each person defines his or her success. I am sure that if asked, my first and last born siblings would say they are just as successful as the two middle siblings.

Interestingly, I am the youngest with the least amount of college, but have the more successful career. My husband who is a middle child would probably be tied with the youngest of his family had his brother not died at 32. Our sons are seven years apart and they are tied as far as career success goes (in a good way). Maybe we are the exception that proves the rule!

For years my younger brother made much more money as a software developer. Then shortly after turning 50, he was laid off and has struggled ever since. I earned much less overall, but will be retiring at age 58.

Neither my younger sister or older sister were successful - my older sister never went to college and ended up tending bar and waiting tables. And my younger sister took 6 years to get through college and never worked in her field; now she doesn't work at all! I like what my professional career has done for my family in terms of a nice house in a nice neighborhood with nice things.

I'm the second of seven children, so that isn't "middle". We define success as having a healthy life and relationships.

Who is more successful depends on how you define success. My 2 oldest brothers make the most money, but my older sister was a very successful teacher. She just didn't earn as much. We have all been successful.

I'm not sure how you would compare an only child to middle or last born children, I'm interested to hear how that would be done!

Middle children may try harder to excel

While my answers support the research findings, I would like to see a corresponding survey which ties birth order to happiness.

My 2 children are equally successful. 2nd child needed a little more time to bloom. The oldest of my 3 siblings was a mess, so you really need to throw her out as an outlier. Probably happens more often than you think.

I was the last born child and restricted more than my siblings. In addition to my full time job and being a mother, My husband and I just opened a business. I do not believe in studies like that, it's all what you strive for.

These days birth order is hard to determine. I am the middle child of my nuclear family, but when I was 12, my parents' three God-children joined our family, making me the second youngest. Where does that put me in the birth order? And how does one judge success? Money and a corner office or meaningful work that makes a difference? I have had opportunities to be a "success" and chose instead to become really good at the job I have so I could help support my family and still have time to spend with them and help in my community. That has certainly made my family successful!

My older sister became a farmer and I'm an HR analyst. Not sure who won out in that scenario--probably her.

I am the first born and may be more "successful" by typical standards but my younger sibling is very entrepreneurial. He is very smart, takes risks and comes up with new ideas that people are usually willing to buy. He's done quite well and I'm proud of him.

Verbatim (cont.) 

I'm convinced that my success is based upon watching the first two siblings struggle. I then paved the way for number four which is doing pretty well - but not as good as me 🙂

My boys are three years apart. Both graduated from college and ended up with good jobs doing the same thing at the same company.

I am the most successful child my parents have ever had, they consider me a genius! 🙂

I'm actually mostly guessing, and I think the range between most/least successful is actually pretty narrow. I think I, a middle, might actually be in second place, but largely because I have never switched careers, nor had children of my own. That could be viewed as success or failure, depending on your perspective...

As one of six, there is not enough space to get into everything that could have been!

I am number 4 of 8. When you look at overall success, including relationships, family, and financial, the middle are the most successful. When I look at my 3 children, the youngest is the most successful financially and all are very successful with their careers, marriages, and families.

completely untrue in my family. I am the last born and the most driven - I have 2 degrees, a successful career, great home life and a job I really like. My sister, the middle child is right behind me and my brother who is the oldest is the least driven and usually disgruntled. Like every "rule", there are always exceptions!

Success is relative but the first born in our family was a "self-made" manager in his career. I'm sure it was all those years of bossing his three younger siblings around.

Success was expected for all of us. I'm the largest breadwinner in a family of seven, but we are about equally satisfied in our chosen - not defaulted - careers. Thanks Mom and Dad!!

A lot depends on how you define success. We each have success in different areas, professionally, personally, fiscally, or in the community.

I believe anyone, regardless of birth order, can have a successful career, or not! Hard work and tenacity aren't limited to your location on the Family Tree.

First and middle are successful in our chosen careers and financially, youngest is an old hippy living in the woods little stress or debt. Maybe he is most successful,

I owned a successful TPA business for many years, sold my share and now lead a TPA division at an advisory firm. The middle child ( first born male) was successful in family business and now owns his own business in the same field. Youngest child is an old hippy, living in the woods little stress or debt. Hmm, maybe the youngest is most successful.

In our family, we have 3 first borns - first daughter, first son, and then a 5 year gap that puts the next one as a first all over again. Plus, both of our parents are first borns. You can only imagine how our home operated!

I disagree with the study -- middle children learn early what they need to do to get other people's attention and work harder as a result, which leads to success thru creativity and hard work! Take that older brother and baby sister!! 🙂

it will be interesting to see the responses on THIS one. As for the question above, I think it depends on your definition of "more successful." Honestly (and why would I lie?), I have no idea how my salary compares to my siblings - and while that is implied by your question, who's to say that is the best measure of success?


NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.