Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 14:47 UK

Younger children disciplined less

Tougher discipline acts as a deterrent, academics say

The oldest children in a family are likely to face the toughest discipline, academics have found.

There seems to be truth in the belief that younger siblings get away with more, according to a study by American academics.

They also found that younger children were more likely to rebel and "go off the rails".

The study, published in The Economic Journal, said parents were more likely to withdraw funds from older children.

And the authors said there was evidence that this harsher treatment worked as a deterrent for younger siblings.

One of the report's authors, Professor Joseph Hotz of Duke University, a middle child of five siblings, said: "My older sister always complains that she never got away with anything when she was growing up, and we all agree that my younger sister got away with murder.

"That's the story of this paper"

'Tough love'

The academics analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

They found that first-born children who dropped out of school or got pregnant were less likely to be living at home or receiving financial support from parents than younger siblings in the same situations.

And younger siblings were more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour than their older siblings.

Co-author Ginger Zhe Jin, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Maryland, said: "Tender-hearted parents find it harder and harder to engage in 'tough love' since, as they have fewer young children in the house, they have less incentive to uphold reputations as disciplinarians.

"'As a result, the theory predicts that last-born and only children, knowing that they can get away with much more than their older brothers and sisters, are, on average, more likely to engage in risky behaviour."

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