New study claims link between birth order, career overestimated in previous research

Are you anticipating your intellectual, ambitious firstborn child will become a doctor or your youngest will pursue an artistic occupation?

These common expectations of people’s career choice being influenced by their birth order may have been overestimated in previous research, according to a new study by a University of Houston researcher.

In the European Journal of Personality, Rodica Damian, an assistant professor of psychology and director of the Personality Development and Success Lab, reports the only discovery that supported previous research of the belief was a small effect of birth order on educational attainment.

“The little evidence there is for a possible link between birth order, education, and status attainment points more to unexplained causal mechanisms rather than traits and abilities attributed -- but not necessarily scientifically supported -- to specific birth orders,” Damian said.

According to two dominant models, the links between birth order and careers are explained differently.

The niche-finding model proposes personality traits should explain such links whereas the confluence model points to intelligence.

Upon reviewing both models, Damian found modest support for the confluence model as it proposes that firstborns tend to have slightly higher levels of intelligence in comparison to those born later who are left with less intellectual stimulation as their family becomes diluted.

“Our findings suggest that the role of birth order on career types, occupational creativity and status attainment might have been overestimated in previous research, and the only finding that replicated previous research was a small effect of birth order on educational attainment,” Damian said. “In practical terms, there is little-to-no evidence here to suggest that first- vs. later-borns are destined for specific careers, so parents should not be surprised if their firstborn wants to become an artist.”

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