Not Born Yesterday

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Taking the Birth Order Quiz

Personality and the Influence of Birth Order

Of America's first 23 astronauts in space, how many were first-born children? Give up? The answer is a surprising 21, or nearly all of them. I know that because I recently had the question in a quiz about birth order. (I guessed that only 10 were first-borns.)   

The quiz consisted of about a dozen questions like that one, dealing with the influence of birth order on personality, and based on years of scientific research. I had to guess at most of the answers and only got half of them right. 

Here are some of the other questions:  

What percentage of CEOs are reportedly first-born children? I got that one right with a guess of 43%. Oddly enough, there is a sliding scale after that, with 33% middle-borns and 23% last-borns. I wondered why that was so, but there was no explanation given. Are first-born children just more ambitious than later-borns? 

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Why are only-children reluctant to pursue outdoor careers? I got that one wrong, the correct answer being overly protective parents, who fear for their only child's safety, while parents of several children tend to have a more relaxed attitude. I wondered what outdoor careers we were talking about. The only one I could think of that could be called a "career," and not just a job, was ski instructor. But there must be others if a lot of overly protective parents are worried. 

The next section of the quiz had to do with younger versus older siblings. 

Which group (younger or older) is more likely to engage in sports that involve physical danger? The correct answer is later-borns are more likely to take up sports such as football, sky diving, motorcycle racing, etc. I assume the reason is because parents have a more relaxed attitude toward later-born children, and are not so overly protective (see the earlier question about outdoor careers).

Which group (younger or older) tends to be more sentimental? I guessed the older ones. Not so, according to a survey of high-school students in which the younger ones rated themselves more sentimental than their older siblings. That brought to mind the all-time most sentimental Speaker of the House (at least in terms of tears shed in public) John Boehner. Odds are that he is a younger sibling!  

Which group (younger or older) gets better grades in school, and why? Younger siblings, again. The primary reason being that they are mentored by older ones. In addition, researchers found that younger siblings not only feel the need to be more competitive, but also have more confidence because they have seen the older ones take on similar challenges. 

This was another question involving older versus younger siblings, and it left me shaking my head:

Which group may have more perfectionists? Answer, the older siblings. In most families, maybe, but not in mine. I have always been the purist, the stickler for perfection. My older sister scoffed at the maxim I followed religiously, which was "anything worth doing is worth doing right." Obviously, I got that one wrong.  

Two questions were about research and incomplete data:

What is the primary reason that decades of birth order research may be flawed? The answer is that the size of the family was not considered. That seems like a pretty big flaw to me, for the simple reason that parental time and money is going to be spread thinner in big families than in smaller ones, which, for better or worse, would surely influence the personality of the children.

The first scholarly research into birth order did not include what group? The answer is that female children were not included, which seems shocking on the face of it, but less so if you consider when it was published, which was 1874, when girls didn't count for much, apparently.    

Flaws and unreliable data aside, generally we can conclude from this quiz that the order in which children are born does indeed influence personality. We now know that parents may encourage first-born or only-children to follow a narrow path, but take a more relaxed attitude with later-borns, which makes them more self-confident and independent. 

The end of the quiz left me thinking that there must be a lot more on this subject than we learned here. Astronauts and CEOs are interesting but rather lofty groups for study, and must make up a very small percentage of the population, besides. What about folks in other groups and other occupations, I wondered? Writers, for example (novelists, playwrights, memoirists)? As a rule, we are not shy. Far from it, in fact, so I think we would make excellent guinea pigs. Trouble is, nobody asked us.

E. E. Smith is a playwright and book author. Her new series of murder mysteries debuted in 2013. The first is titled Death by Misadventure. 

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