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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Are first-born children better achievers?
Primary school children
Do first-born children achieve more?

First-born children tend to be more successful at school and work than their younger siblings according to research carried out in Norway.

The report suggests that the eldest child will spend one year more in education than a third-born child.

It also claims that later-born children will earn less, are less likely to work full-time, and females are more likely to be teenage mothers.

Are first-born children better achievers?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of views received:

Interesting how some here measure achievement by amount of salary. The Norwegian result demonstrates a tendency; in a bell curve there are thus a large number of exceptions. I also wonder what the value of such a survey is and how it can help future families. Are we perhaps advised to help our first born children achieve less in case any more children that arise can be "more equal"? Of course not.
Bob Ridge, Tokyo, Japan

Interesting topic. I've always known that my elder daughter would do better at school than her sister. She is more focused and I wonder if that is because I spent more time with her as a baby. Her sister was left to learn from observation and chance, and even in the areas that she excels has always feared outshining her elder sister! As to who will achieve more later on in life, I would not like to guess as they both have their strong points.
Ann Devadas, Singapore

My educational achievements turned out to be no worse than my eldest sibling
Partly true. I agree that my eldest sibling is a high-achiever and much more social active. But as the youngest, I tend to replicate and even try to outperform my siblings. My educational achievements turned out to be no worse than my eldest sibling.

The oldest in my family dropped out of education, had children when she was a teen and has never had a full time job in her life. I, the youngest of three, have a degree, a successful career and am childless at the age of 30. The trend may be for first borns to be most successful, but the variation from family to family is enough to render this research completely pointless. I wonder if the researchers were first born...
Matt, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (ex. UK)

As the younger of 2 daughters I obtained a Master's degree, my elder sister didn't complete her A levels. I then went on to earn approx. twice her salary, and was 6 years older than she had been when I had my first child. But she runs an equally happy, honest household and is making up for lost time now. I think she suffered from no early competition, and from having no one's mistakes to learn from (plus a traumatic house move at the wrong age - the sort of thing which is down to chance and not position in the family).
Jane, UK

I think it is less about genes than the environment that causes this occurrence
Irene, Seattle, USA
As the eldest, I find this research to be true. However, I also think it is a result of cultural and family values. The eldest in my family is pressured to be the most responsible, and able to take care of the family and especially their younger siblings. Even though the world is changing, these values are still embedded into society and I think it is less about genes than the environment that causes this occurrence.
Irene, Seattle, USA

The stupidity/foolishness of the first-born is proverbial in my culture. They make all the mistakes since they have no siblings to look up to. Is that the achievement we are discussing?
Julie, New York

As one of three siblings, I think I can say that this research doesn't apply to us either. The middle one has achieved more than the others.
Nick, Kent

I certainly outperformed my two younger brothers academically. However I was always very competitive with the one 20 months younger than me and I think this spurred both of us on to an extent - he now earns more than me. Whereas my youngest brother (eight years younger) was never under the same pressure to achieve and consequently hasn't.
Sarah, London, UK

This may be true only in a very limited set of circumstances. In my situation, as the youngest of five, I'm probably the highest achiever and had children the latest as well.
Lisa, Cambridge, UK

Completely the opposite in my case. I think the research has probably oversimplified the problem. What about the age gap for example? Surely that plays a significant part of this assessment.
Ash, LA, USA

As an older sibling I think the research sounds faultless
Ellie, London
As an older sibling I think the research sounds faultless. Sadly, something seems to be going wrong in my case as my younger sister earns twice as much as me.
Ellie, London

It depends on how you rate achievement. Looking at my brother and I, I may well have accomplished more in terms of academic achievement, but he has achieved more than me in his work life.
DW, Chicago USA (Brit expat)

I agree with the research. I have always outperformed my younger sister academically but on the other hand she is more creative.
Richard, Stockholm, Sweden

I don't think one can generalise and necessarily apply research carried out in Norway to the situation in this country as our cultures are different. In my experience, the reverse of these research findings is true: my second born is the whizzkid because he's very competitive and has learned to problem solve and get around obstacles so that he wins as often as possible.
Liz, Worthing

I would agree with the research as I have so many examples around me to support this. The first born gets a lot of love and attention and also has to face the world more than the siblings and perhaps that's what makes them better achievers
Hassan Altaf, Lahore, Pakistan

I am first born and have spent 10 years in higher education gaining two masters degrees and a PhD. My younger brother (third born) spent zero years in higher education and earns twice as much as me. How do we define "better achiever"?
James, UK

I cannot think of any family group that fits with this theory
Christine, London
Well personally in my case, it was exactly the reverse. My elder sister left school at 16 and ended up having 6 children and never working at all. I went on to do A-levels and have remained in full time employment in the IT industry all my life. My younger brother went to Cambridge and is a top engineer. Amongst family and friends I cannot think of any family group that fits with this theory.
Christine, London

Since the exact opposite is true in my family, I'd have to say it's complete nonsense!
Jon, UK

I was taught this at university but apart from John Boy Walton my own experience suggests the second child is likely to surpass the first born in respect to educational achievement (or maybe the exams are getting easier).
Ian, Bradford, UK

Anecdotally, I would disagree. My older sister was pregnant by 19 and has never had a career. I am in my 30s and have spent 6 years more in education and have a successful career. However, I guess if the statistical evidence shows the first-born to be higher achievers it must be true.
Helen, London

I am 13 months younger than my brother who left school at 16, whereas I went on to obtain a degree. So no I don't think first-born children are necessarily better achievers.
Jo, Manchester, UK

Describes my family to a T. Needless to say I'm the first-born!
Jack Hatfield, Brighton

I think it's down to the fact that they are the oldest and always think they know better and will put down any ideas etc that younger bro and sis have and this is why maybe they do better as the younger ones have their confidence knocked out of them
Ma, UK

Do scientists waste time and resources on unimportant stuff? The answer is overwhelmingly yes.

This makes sense. As an older child in the brood, I always had to look out for my little brother, and as a result take some responsibility from an earlier age. My brother on the other hand freeloaded, knowing I would be made to look out for him! And who can blame him, the lazy wretch.
Craig, Stirling, UK

First-born child 'achieves more'
22 Aug 05 |  Education

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