Page last updated at 01:20 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 02:20 UK

First-borns 'face more pressure'

Family doing homework
Mothers thought eldest children were most likely to suffer from depression

First-born children are almost twice as likely to face pressure to succeed in school as their younger siblings, research has suggested.

The survey of almost 10,000 mothers was held by parenting website Netmums.com

It asked whether mothers had differing expectations for their child's academic success, based on their birth order.

Some 35% said they thought their first child would succeed most academically, 6% said it would be their middle child, and 15% said their youngest child.

However, many mothers said they believed their oldest child would be the most susceptible to anxiety or depression later in life.

Just 7% of mothers said their eldest child would be happy in life, while 35% said their youngest child would be most content.

Of the mothers questioned, 45% said they thought their first born would be the most likely to suffer from anxiety, or depression, compared to just 6% who said it would be most likely to affect their youngest child.

Extra pressure

And 39% said they identified most with their eldest child, 7% said their middle child and 6% their youngest child.

The survey concluded: "This could explain why they have higher expectations for that child and perhaps therefore why they feel justified in putting extra pressure on that child to succeed. Is there an element of parents projecting their own aspirations onto their eldest child?"

Psychologist Tanya Byron said: "Much has been made of the difficulties that middle children face as a result of being sandwiched between siblings. Significantly though, this new research confirms the possible existence of what could be called eldest child syndrome in some families.

"It seems that there could be a tendency for parents to invest more time and energy in their eldest child, in part because as this survey shows parents tend to see more of themselves in their first child and therefore project their own aspirations on to them.

"Evidence shows this can have beneficial effects on intelligence levels but the downside of this extra attention is that they may not develop the happy-go-lucky attitude that their younger siblings - who may be raised in a more relaxed way - often enjoy."

Netmums.com founder Siobhan Freegard said: "Hopefully this research will show parents that they're not alone in slipping into bad habits, which can include giving eldest children too much responsibility."

Researchers in Norway in 2007 found the child raised as the eldest in a family was likely to have a higher IQ than their siblings.

Supporters of the theory argue the eldest child gets more undivided attention from their parents from an early age.



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