Thursday, April 7, 2011

Birth Order and Your Characters

Ever since I read an article about how the birth order of children affects their personality I've been analyzing my family and friends to see if their character traits reflect or refute the birth order characteristics. Since every one of us lines up somewhere it's kind of a fun checklist to see whether this is fact or fiction. And speaking of fiction, here's my question: do you consciously attribute your hero/heroine's personality characteristics to their birth order?

I know in the case of my novels, I've had a younger sister (with an older brother), an older sister (with a younger brother), an only female child, an older brother (with a much younger brother). I have yet to write about a character with more than one sibling. As I read through the list below I can see that I have attributed many of the characteristics of the Oldest and Youngest to my characters. Maybe I did it because I was aware of this birth order theory but I didn't consciously set out to write them as a 'type'. Goodness, I hope my characters have a little more complexity than that. However, I have to admit many of the traits listed below can be attributed to my firstborn and youngest siblings that I've created. I haven't written a middle child character yet but, from the list below, it would be an interesting character study. Middles seem much more complex and harder to define than the other two (that's my Daughter Two for you!)

Below, I've excerpted the descriptions of the three main birth orders care of this article

First born children are natural leaders. They tend to be perfectionists, reliable and conscientious people. They don't react well to surprises and can be aggressive, but can often be people pleasers. Children who are first born have a strong need for approval by others.

Doesn’t make waves
Follows parents’ wishes
Emotionally intense
Surrogate parent
Leadership material
(Note: Only children are similar to first born children. However, they are even bigger perfectionists, are more responsible and tend to get along better with older people than individuals their own age)

The middle child is often the most difficult to stereotype. Almost always guaranteed to be the opposite of their older sibling, middle children typically feel as though their older sibling stole the spotlight from them, while their younger siblings could get away with murder. They tend to be secretive, more withdrawn and not prone to talk about their emotions. Since middle children feel as though they were overlooked by their family they grow stronger connections with peers and are excellent people readers and peacemakers.

Highly attuned to needs of others
Doesn’t like to follow authority

Last born children tend to be outgoing, social butterflies. They are also the most financially unstable of all the other siblings since their primary interest is in having a good time. The youngest children of the family are often very charming, but can also be manipulative and spoiled

Highly social
Laid back
Few expectations of self

Please note that these traits may change based on the space of years between children and the female/male dynamic. For example, I'm the youngest of two but there were 7 years between me and my brother so I'm more like an only child.

What about your characters (or family members :) ? Do they follow these traits or at least some of them? Or do you think this is a bunch of hooey?


  1. I'm a middle child (two older brothers, one younger). I'd say the middle child traits are pretty spot on for me.

  2. I'm the youngest of three children and wow. These couldn't be more different than us. Growing up, my brother rarely did what he was told and he definitely wasn't authoritarian, a perfectionist or responsible. My sister, the middle child, isn't creative, laid back, independent, and certainly not a peacemaker. Me? Definitely not social, laid back or unconventional.

    I think if this were reversed, so the oldest had the bottom traits and the youngest the top, then it would describe my family. Isn't that weird?

  3. I've known about this for years, although my info was somewhat different from what you quote, Nelsa. These days my husband teases me about being a first born, when he's a second (and therefore superior!). In South Africa, children are frequently introduced by a mother in this manner. We once bought our (grownup) son a tee shirt that said 'Third Born' which he proudly wore till it fell apart.

  4. Hi Linda: The middle child description works for my second daughter too. I find the middle children fascinating - although living with them can be challenging! :)

    Hi JE: So, basically, you're saying it's all hooey, right? :) It might be a combination of how many years are between you all and, of course, the whole environment issue wasn't even touched on and that has to make some impact.

    Hi Brenda: Oh, I so love that T-shirt idea! Maybe I'll get one for each of my kids and see if how they react is typical for their birth order? :)