SURVEY SAYS: How Has Birth Order Working Out in Your Family?

September 29, 2011 ( - Last week we covered a survey about birth order, career movements, and job satisfaction.

This week I asked readers about their birth order – and, in their family, who’s wealthier, who’s happier, who’s got a “better’ title, and who’s more “successful?”

First off, in the interests of full disclosure, a plurality of this week’s respondents were “middles”, specifically 37.7%.  Second-most-represented (28.6%) where those who were “eldests”, while nearly as many (26%) were the youngest among their siblings. 

The remaining 7.8% were “only” children.

Having established potential grounds for “bias”, let’s turn to the individual categories:



Wealthiest:  Eldest

Among this week’s respondents, the eldest was more likely to be cited as the wealthiest, by 30.8%.

However, in fairness, that was just barely ahead of “middles”, cited by 29.5%.

21.8% - youngest

10.3% - it’s a “tie”

7.7% were an “only”, so relative sibling positions were meaningless.



Got a Better Title:  Middles

This category found the birth orders nearly evenly matched, but it was “middles” who topped the list, cited by 28.6%.

Close behind were those who said the youngest sibling had the better title (27.3%), while nearly as many (26.0%) said that accomplishment belonged to the eldest.

10.4% said it was a “tie” – and, of course, 7.8% were an “only”, rendering a relative comparison meaningless.



More Successful:  It’s a Tie

It may be that I allowed readers to read into “most successful” any criteria they chose to affix to it, but 26.3% said that was equally applicable across their siblings.

Nearly as many, however, (26.0%) said it was the youngest in their family, while 22.4% attributed that accomplishment to the “middles” in the brood.

17.1% cited the eldest in their family – and 7.8% were, of course, “onlies.”




Is a Better Decision-Maker:  Middles

That’s right, 29.9% of this week’s respondents said the middle children in their family were better decision-makers, well ahead of the 22.1% that noted it was a “tie” across the birth orders in their family.

About one-in-five (20.8%) named the “eldest”, and 19.5% cited the youngest.

Of course, 7.8% were “onlies”.




Happier:  It’s a Tie

Yes, a clear plurality of this week’s respondents (30.8%) didn’t find any particular birth order delineations in this critical category. 

Youngest were next most likely to be cited as “happier” – 24.4%.

Eldest next most likely, at 19.2%, with the “middles” at 17.9%.

And yes, there were (still) 7.8% in the “only” category.


There were also, as you might expect, some interesting verbatims, a sampling that you'll find on the following pages:


There are 5 children in my family.  Although I firmly believe that we all are born into a different family because, after all, we are ... it still doesn't matter what order we came in.  We all became who we are because of our different personalities.  In many ways we all had a different childhood, but with the same parents (who also grew with us along the way). Other relationships outside the family unit can also make a difference in your life.  Who were your friends - who were your teachers - who did you marry?  In the realm of careers, I believe drive and motivation are all about us - not where we are in order or month of birth.  Our own individual circumstances in life and the way we learn to respond to them affect the way we pave our way.

Birth order is just one variable that influences one's life path....I don't think it is the overriding determining factor.

I'm # 6 of 8 - oldest 6 years older / youngest 4 years younger

Am so glad I am not the middle child!

We have 6 in my family so the middle is a relative term.

In my family, it doesn't make much difference.  All 4 of us are long term career employees, working from 20 to 35 years for the same employer.


I think in my family, gender had more to do with it than birth order. We're very old-fashioned. The oldest is my brother, who was a very focused and disciplined student, and now a successful and valued employee. The youngest is my sister, who is the happiest stay-at-home mom you've ever met. They're both doing great, but chose very different paths in life.

My spouse and I are both the younger of two children.  We are both more adventuresome, more daring, more self-reliant, confident, competent, and more successful than our older siblings.  We have also done a better job of instilling these qualities in our children, both the older and the younger child.

Birth order is almost impossible to quantify anymore because there are so few (in my experience) "pure" families anymore.  In my family, there were 7 of us; the oldest died in childhood (before I was born).  My older brother was adopted at age 2 (but was the youngest of 8 in his birth family).  Is he an oldest child or youngest child?  I am in the middle and I have a younger sister (who is youngest by all measures).  As a teenager, my parents took in the teenage children of her college roommate who died of cancer.  All three of them are older than me.  Am I still a middle child? Or a younger child?  Is the youngest of those 3 still a youngest child or is she now a middle child (because she is older than me and my younger sister)?  We have formed a solid, loving, single family, but who knows where we fall in birth order!

The parenting skills of one's parents can certainly trump birth order in affecting their children, both positively and negatively.  I am thankful that my parents had good parenting skills.  All five of us are doing just fine.

Think it can be harder being eldest as parents tend to be stricter in early stages and then preoccupied with needs of younger siblings in the years when more guidance is helpful.

Hard answer when it's only two siblings.  It's also VERY gender-specific.  I'm female, younger of two and chose certain jobs based on location, travel, etc. (you know that mom-career thing).  Older brother moved across country for higher positions.  Besides, Benefits Managers are rarely listed in any 'wealthier' category!


I am the oldest, a whole 4 minutes older identical twin.  I truly believe in the quote that you are the average of the 5 closest people in your life (for the good or the bad).

As third, I tend to follow the eldest but I would give him props as being higher or a little better than I am in these things.  The middle one just bounces along, but probably is happiest overall.

I think the birth order results are, to some extent, gobbledy gook.

"My wife and I are both the youngest with one older sibling. We are both in a creative field. We are happily married. We live in a small comfortable house and live a mid-sized city.

Both our older siblings are very successful, divorced, work long hours, spend ridiculous amounts of money on their houses and complain constantly of their need to live in large congested, traffic laden cities in order to have their high paying jobs with which they maintain their lifestyles. Being the ""less responsible"", ""less successful"" one is just fine with me."

I'm an only but have 2 sons, who happen to be 12 years apart in age (no siblings in between and the same 2 parents -- people always ask!). In some respects, they are both onlies. But when you do the whole birth order "testing" of them, you would think the eldest is the youngest and the youngest is the eldest. Not that the older one isn't successful, but the younger one is much more of a "take charge" type who knows exactly where he wants to go and how he wants to get there. He is wise beyond his years. Maybe he learned from his brother's mistakes? Maybe we didn't baby him as much as we did his older brother because we were busy with his brother's activities, etc., when he was little? Who knows, but he is a breath of fresh air in many respects! 

As the eldest, I always thought I got the short-end of the stick -- higher standards, wasn't "given" anything, had to buy my own things, wasn't allowed to borrow the car even though I was the best driver of all of us, etc.  Even now, my sister, the youngest, and self-proclaimed slacker won't ever make a decision if we're both involved because "Why should I?  I know you'll do it."

Birth order is not a factor since I am an only child, however, the zodiac information was pretty accurate. Hard to assess the validity behind the zodiac but so many times, the descriptions are dead on.

No question is our family, the middle child was a disaster from the word go and nothing has changed in the fifty plus years since. Between the eldest and I there is little to choose from. We are both pretty successful, pretty happy, and we will both be able to afford to retire some day ... hopefully. As for the middle one? Well, let's just say that when the eldest and I discuss him it is usually along the lines of "Well, he's not sponging off me!"

Since there were seven children in my family, the odds were that one of the five in the middle would end up with more money and a "title".  Hard to define "happy" or "successful".  Sometimes I look at my bachelor brother's life (who is retired at 52) and think "No children's healthcare, education, automobile insurance, etc. etc. etc...I could have been like him".  Then my grandson comes to visit and I think of what he's missing.

Of my six siblings (I'm second), the oldest is a radio DJ, and the rest are school teachers.  Needless to say, I come out on top!!


"There are five of us, and I'm actually second oldest, so I'm not quite middle.  But my two younger brothers are twins, so depending on how you look at it, they might count as ""one"" place...or the one who is one minute older might be the true middle child.  But either way, I am more established and successful than either of them.  They've taken loans from my folks and have run up huge amounts of debt.  In one case, one brother even received a new home from his mother-in-law and he and his wife STILL can't make ends meet. The other brother is divorced and remarried and now has a new child but seems to be wandering aimlessly through restaurant management positions. 

Of the five kids, my youngest sibling (my sister) and I are the most stable.  However, as a Virgo I don't yet earn 6 figures unless you count decimal places. My wife's earning potential has gone through the roof, and her salary continues to climb. I've ceded the place of breadwinner to her (gladly) and would even take a ""stay at home"" position if I felt we could afford it.  Oh well...."


Here were my favorites:

Being the "poster" middle child (and a Cancer) who will never be as successful, out-going or as beautiful as my older sibling or as funny, care-free and out-going as my younger sibling, I am satisfied (I think) with being the most sound minded and happy.  I know, Marsha, Marsha, Marsha

It's easiest to be the winner here when the rest of your family is chronically unemployed.

Not that I'm bragging as the eldest, but the eldest is where it's at.

Of course, being a Middle, and thinking that the Middle child is the "Better Decision-Maker" may be all in my own head!

I apparently should be running the company by now since I'm an only child AND a Capricorn! I come from a family of six.  Our parents were married over 50 years.  Numbers 1, 3 and 5 have successful marriages.  Numbers 2, 4 and 6 were disastrous.  I don't know how that relates, but it's interesting.

I'm the first boy but smack dab in the middle of the pack of five siblings. I still got hand-me-downs. I learned early to say "I wouldn't be caught dead in that". Doesn't fit in your chart very well.

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who noted, “I don't know if birth order had much to do with it, but I am pretty much the only "functional" person in my family. They all think I'm weird because I am not on any sort of government assistance.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!