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First borns have better thinking skills than their younger siblings?

Posted February 11, 2017

Having siblings is a lot of fun, especially because one can play and learn with them. However, not all siblings are equal. It turns out, that first borns are actually smarter and score higher in usual IQ tests than their brothers and sisters. An international team of scientists conducted a study and found that first borns actually have a mental edge, because of the support from their parents.

Older siblings seem to be smarter and, as other studies show, usually get higher wages and education later in life. Image credit: sathyatripodi via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

This study showed that children, who are born earlier, receive more support from their parents in completing tasks that develop thinking skills. In other words, as hard as it is to believe, parents do not help their children equally – first borns get more attention where it matters for development of their intellectual abilities. In fact, scientists say that results of this research could help explain an entire phenomenon, called “birth order effect”, which reveals that older siblings more often enjoy better wages and more education in later life.

This may be difficult to wrap your head around, because parents are said to love each of their children equally. While that may be true, the first child simply gets more attention, because at that point it is the only child. Scientists from UK, Australia and US analysed data from observations of around 5,000 children from pre-birth to age 14. Children once in a while had to complete various tests that assessed their mental ability and development of it. Scientists analysed the data and looked for correlation between parental behaviour and mental performance of the children.

It turns out, parents show more attention to their first born child and stimulate them more. The difference in thinking skills between first born children and their younger siblings increased through the years – older siblings scored higher in tests of verbal, reading, math and comprehension abilities. Parents spend less time with subsequent children – they read with them less, do not do crafts together nor teach them to play an instrument. Dr Ana Nuevo-Chiquero, one of the researchers, concluded: “Our results suggest that broad shifts in parental behaviour are a plausible explanation for the observed birth order differences in education and labour market outcomes”.

Youngers siblings will say it is not fair, but it seems to be natural. Parents rely on older children more to stimulate and play with their younger siblings. All it means is that younger siblings have to work harder in life.


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