Much has been written about how birth order can shape a child’s personality and behavior, and a poll out of the UK confirms what many have written and experienced: the baby of the family is the funniest.
A poll conducted by YouGov of 1782 adults in Great Britain discovered that 46 percent of youngest children said they were funnier than their siblings. That compares to 36 percent of firstborn children who said they were the funniest.
Psychologist Kevin Lehman, who wrote the definitive book on the topic, The Birth Order Book, has described the babies of the family as “social and outgoing,” explaining on his website that they “just want to have a good time.” This might explain why they end up being the family clowns. “Knowing that these kids love the limelight, it’s no surprise to discover that Billy Crystal, Goldie Hawn, Drew Carey, Jim Carrey and Steve Martin are all lastborns,” Lehman said.
The downside? “While lastborns may be charming, they also have the potential to be manipulative, spoiled or babied to the point of helplessness,” according to Lehman.
The survey also found that lastborns claim to be more easygoing than their firstborn siblings (47 percent to 42 percent) and also more relaxed (42 percent to 49 percent).
But on the opposite side of the personality coin, firstborns report they are more responsible (54 percent) than the babies of the family, only 31 percent of whom claim to hold that title. The eldest siblings also claim they are more organized (54 percent to 43 percent) than their lastborn counterparts.
According to Lehman, over half of U.S presidents were either firstborns or only children, along with many newscasters and TV talk show hosts, including Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera, Arsenio Hall, and Rush Limbaugh.
“Clearly, firstborns are natural leaders,” said Lehman. “They also tend to be reliable, conscientious and perfectionists who don’t like surprises. Although, firstborns are typically aggressive, many are also compliant people pleasers. They are model children who have a strong need for approval from anyone in charge.”
Lehman said there can be some exceptions to the usual birth order characteristics; for example, “if there are several years between the first and second child, the second child will have some characteristics of a firstborn,” he said. “Or, if the firstborn is a girl and the second a boy, the son will have some firstborn characteristics because he is the family’s first male offspring.” Lehman explained that the death of a sibling, an adoption, or a blended family can also change the traditional birth order.
Lehman offered some advice for parenting the baby of the family. First, parents should “stick to the rules” and make sure discipline is consistent amongst siblings. “Statistics show the lastborn is least likely to be disciplined and the least likely to have to toe the mark the way the older children did. You can be sure your older children are watching you closely!”
Second, parents need to give youngest siblings responsibility so they can grow up to be confident and self-reliant. “Lastborns often wind up with less to do around the house for two reasons,” Lehman said. “One, they are pros at ducking out of work. And two, they are so little and ‘helpless’ that the rest of the family decides it’s easier to do the work themselves.”
Finally, Lehman said it’s important to applaud accomplishment. “Lastborns are well known for feeling that nothing they do is important. Make a big deal out of accomplishments (you may have seen two other kids learn to ride a bike but it’s the first time for your baby) and be sure he gets his fair share of ‘marquee time’ on the refrigerator.”
One other surprising finding of the YouGov poll was that 17 percent of the youngest siblings thought they were their parents’ favorite, while only 10 percent of firstborns believed that. In other words, the vast majority of adults surveyed didn’t believe they were the favorite. Whether that means they believe another sibling was the favorite or that they think their parents treated all the children fairly was not asked of the respondents.