I have always been fascinated by the innate qualities and exterior factors that shape who we become as a person. One of the uncontrollable qualities we have that greatly contours our behavior and how we relate to others is our birth order.
Before reading more, have some fun and take this short test on the Big Five Personalities at http://www.outofservice.com/bigfive/
[Now that is done, read on…]
An interesting analysis that can be done with birth order is looking at who you marry. For example, my husband and I are both firstborns. He and I both have a well balanced sense of working hard at tasks given us [We must please others! – Seth would say that he doesn’t care what people think of him, but him wanting to be the best at his job makes me think otherwise]. On the negative side, he is stubborn and I’m selfish. I’m sure growing up with him, he domineered his sister and brother because he was there first. [Do it my way!] My sister could probably attest to the fact that I did not like to share. [Those were my toys first!] As a couple, we both assert ourselves and battle it out for control, but luckily for Seth, I acquiesce due to my more domineering, people-pleasing tendencies.
I wonder what the first couple’s “birth order” means about them. Eve is quite a firstborn, being able to repeat verbatim what God told her about the forbidden fruit; Frank J. Sulloway, a leading psychologist on Birth Order, says that firstborns “generally are more conscientious than laterborns, a difference that is exemplified by their being more responsible, ambitious, organized, and academically successful” (Sulloway 46). Eve probably took notes as God said, “Do not eat from the tree of life.” I guess she didn’t study hard enough. Adam shows his people-pleasing inclination when Eve “gave [the apple] to [him]…and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). No raucous from him!
What Sulloway spends most of his Birth Order research on is within the family and how birth order affects sibling competition and human behavior (39). In Chapter 2 of his Conceptual Challenges in Evolutionary Psychology: Innovative Research Strategies (2001), Sulloway asserts “birth order is a powerful proximate…source of sibling strategies. These strategic variations arise because birth order is correlated with differences in age, physical size, power, and status within the family. These disparities cause siblings to experience family relationships in dissimilar ways and to pursue differing ways of maximizing their parents’ investments in their welfare…even when parents do not favor one child over another, sibling competition influences the dynamics of family life because it promotes diversity. Such competition generally involves the cultivation and exploitation of family niches that correspond to differences in birth order” (44-45).
After The Fall, jealousy prevails. Cain’s first emotions recorded are anger and a “downcast” face (Genesis 4:5). This analysis may be a stretch, but Sulloway states that firstborns “appear to be more neurotic in the sense of being temperamental and anxious about their status” (46). Finding out later that God favored Abel’s offering over his own probably made Cain “question his status” a bit, not that murdering his brother was warranted.
The next set of Biblical brothers, Esau and Jacob, are also excellent examples. Sulloway remarks that “the process of sibling differentiation extends to relationships with parents. When a firstborn identifies more strongly with one parent, the next younger sibling is likely to identify more strongly with the other parent” (48). First, in Genesis 25, readers are told that Isaac favored Esau because of his connection to the animals and Rebecca favored Jacob. Second, Jacob begins out his life as the laterborn, who devises a plan, with his mother’s help, to take Esau’s birthright. According to the Big Five personality dimensions (53), laterborns “seek out an unoccupied family niche, in part by cultivating latent talents that can be discovered only through experimentation. For these reasons, laterborns are generally more exploratory, unconventional, and tolerant of risk; they also tend to use low-power strategies, such as whining, pleading, humor, social intelligence, offers of reciprocal altruism, and wherever expedient, appealing to parents for help” (47). To gain his brother’s birthright, Jacob uses his cunning to throw a “tit for tat” situation on Esau, thereby gaining Esau’s birthright so Esau could eat because he was so “famished [he] was about to die” (Genesis 25:30-34). Jacob also uses his social intelligence to gain the blessing from Jacob in the famous “hairy arms” dupe. I find it interesting, that despite that Jacob and Esau were twins, they definitely fall into the “firstborn vs. laterborn” categories.
Sulloway does comment on cases of twins, but mostly to show the influence of the family on personality. Twins seem to offer the constant position in the experiment. In Sulloway’s 2002 “Technical Report” in which he defended his assertions and claims against naysayers, he states that there is a five percent effect that the surrounding family members have on an individual’s personality, which he is able to find based on his twin studies (The Role of the Family, www.sulloway.org/metaanalysis.htm). What can we really gain from knowing that family has five percent effect on our personality? Sulloway remarks that, “the most important conclusion from this research appears to be that the bulk of the influence of the family environment (including parents) is not shared by siblings. And why should that be? Parents react differently to each of their offspring, because offspring themselves are different” (The Role of Family).
The fact that Seth and I are both firstborns with very “firstborn expectations” worries me some for Lexi, our oldest. I, like many mothers before me, am seeing how easy I am on the other two compared to her. The ultimate lesson is in what I do with all of this information before me. I think it is natural to expect the most of your oldest, as attested by the aforementioned research, but I can also help us both to not place all this weight on her shoulders. I think that will make me a better mother to her, and hopefully a more relatable confidant, like my own mother is to me, when she has children of her own.
For an excellent breakdown of most of this information, please visit fellow wordpress blogger hedjumacation’s post on Birth Order at http://hedjumacation.net/considerations/uniqueness/birth-order/.
[Disclaimer: The fact that I’m using a Darwin fan’s analysis on Bible characters is not lost on me; I’m very much aware of the irony here. However, I found Sulloway’s writing the most informative.]