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Running head: IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

 

 

 

 



 

The Impact of Birth Order on Romantic Relationships 

______________________________________ 

Presented to 

The Faculty of the Adler Graduate School 

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for 

The Degree of Masters of Arts in 

Adlerian Counseling and Psychotherapy 

______________________________________ 

By 


Lyndsie J Murphy 

Adler Graduate School 

2012


IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

Abstract 

Have you ever thought of the impact your birth order position can have on your personality and 

relationships?  Birth order can shape us in ways we did not realize. It can form our personalities 

and behavior. When it forms our personalities and behaviors it can affect the romantic 

relationships one may have in their lifetime. When looking at romantic relationships, it may be 

beneficial to look at birth order because it can pinpoint how each person’s needs in a relationship 

can differ.   It is important to consider what factors can impact a relationship.  Knowing about a 

person’s personality, family history, and birth order position can help strengthen a relationship 

and prevent conflict.  Birth order may impact the way individuals behave and think in romantic 

relationships.  Keeping in mind, a person’s birth order may not be a strong factor, it should be 

taken into consideration to help develop and maintain a fulfilling romantic relationship (McGuirk 

& Pettijohn II, 2008). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

Table of Contents 

Overview of birth order………………………………………………………………4 

Actual birth order…………………………………………………………….5 

Psychological birth order…………………………………………………….6 

Family of origin………………………………………………………………………6 

Sibling relationships………………………………………………………….8 

Parental relationships………………………………………………………..12 

The way parents treat each child……………………………………………13 

Birth order traits…………………………………………………………………….15 

Oldest personality traits……………………………………………………..15 

Middle personality traits…………………………………………………….18 

Youngest personality traits………………………………………………….20 

Only personality traits………………………………………………………22 

Twin personality traits………………………………………………………24 

Confounding factors of birth order………………………………………………….26 

What is a romantic relationship?.................................................................................29 

Impact of birth order on romantic relationships……………………………………..31 

 

Same type of birth order……………………………………………………..33 



Clinical Implications…………………………………………………………………35 

Limitations…………………………………………………………………………...37 

Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………...37 

References……………………………………………………………………………41 

 

 


IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

The Impact of Birth Order on Romantic Relationships 



Overview of Birth Order 

The study of birth order was started over a century ago by Sir Francis Galton. Sir Francis 

Galton was a 19

th

 century British anthropologist, geographer, and statistician. He believed that 



the human species was ultimately perfectible or improvable.  In his research, he concluded that 

first born and only born children become well known English scientists (Kluger, 2011). This is 

because most of the nations, including England, still followed the custom of primogeniture.  

Primogeniture is when the first born son inherits the family fortune.  Many families in today’s 

world will put their first born son on a pedestal compared to their other children like families did 

in the past.  Many other researchers went on to find the same thing as Sir Francis Galton about 

first born sons.  Alfred Adler came along and decided to take a deeper look into the relationship 

between a child’s birth order and their personality (Forer & Still, 1976).    

Alfred Adler was the founder of Individual Psychology and is known as a great influence 

to modern psychology.  Adler wrote, “Whenever I have studied adults, I have found impressions 

left on them from their early childhood lasting forever.  The position in the family leaves an 

indelible stamp upon the style of life.  Every difficulty of development is caused by rivalry and 

lack of cooperation in the family” (Forer & Still, 1976, 6).   Adler believed that a child’s 

personality is shaped largely by his or her chronological place in the family because parents tend 

to treat children differently according to their order of their birth (Isaacson, 2004).  

Birth order is looked at as the science of understanding a person’s place in their family.  

The order in which a person lands in their family can affect their life (Leman, 2009). Birth order 

is the location in which a child is born in a family system. It refers to four basic positions of a 

child: oldest, middle, youngest, and only.  Each position has personality traits and other 


IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

dynamics that reflect how their position is carried out in a person’s childhood (Kalkan, 2008).  

Birth order begins with the order in which a person enters their family.  It is further shaped by 

the way a child’s parents and siblings have an effect on them (Leman, 2001).  

 Birth order can give people important clues about their personalities, their relationships 

with friends, co-workers, and their loved ones.  It can give clues about the kind of job a person 

may be good at and how they may handle different problems that they come across in their 

lifetime (Leman, 2009).  A person’s personality is cemented by the choices they make in 

responding to their family, siblings, and environment that surrounds them (Leman, 2001).  Birth 

order is a good tool that can help provide an environmental context to a client’s understanding of 

the world.    

There is known to be two different kinds of birth order: actual and psychological.   Actual 

birth order is defined as the order in which a person comes into the world such as: first child 

born, only child born, second child born, or last child born.  Actual birth order, also known as 

ordinal birth order, is related to the child’s personality traits, behavior, attitude and interest 

(Kalkan, 2008).  



Actual Birth Order 

The actual birth order position can become complex when dealing with blended families.   

In blended families, it is hard to come up with a number where the child is born.  When looking 

at blended families, a person can assume that when other children are involved the birth order 

can get mixed up.  Blended families are unique.  The birth order may change if the family has 

younger kids under the age of five. It may depend on the amount of time the children spend in 

the home.  As the children grow older, their actual birth order will more than likely stay the same 


IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

because they have already shaped their personalities before the two families blended (Eckstein & 

Aycock et al., 2010). 

Psychological Birth Order 

Psychological birth order can also be called perceived birth order.  Psychological birth 

order is defined as the way a person sees or perceives his or her position in his or her family of 

origin.   Alfred Adler believed that birth order was the way a child interpreted his or her 

perceived positions in the family, which is the most important to him or her (Kalkan, 2008).  

Adler stated, “It is not, of course, the child’s number in the order of successive births which 

influence his character, but the situation into which he is born and the way in which he interprets 

it is the role a child adopts as his or her interactions with others” (Eckstein & Aycock et al., 

2010, 409).  Research has shown that there is a stronger relationship of personality traits to the 

psychological birth order rather than the actual birth order.  The psychological birth order has a 

greater influence on how the children’s personalities will be formed in their world (Kalkan, 

2008).  


Family of Origin 

A person may wonder about another person’s family and if the experiences he or she has 

with them has an effect on him or her.  It is not in question that there is no greater influence out 

there than what a person’s family has on him or her when he or she is growing up.  The most 

intimate relationships a person has in their life are with those of his or her family.   A person 

spends a great deal of time with their family members throughout their lifetime.  In the time 

spent with his or her family, a person experiences many different life adventures and milestones 

that may be shared with his or her family members (Leman, 2009).   



IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

The family of origin can affect how siblings develop their primary personalities so that 

they will be known as a significant member in their family.  The family atmosphere forms the 

context in which children begin to make a place for themselves. Each child in their relationships 

to other members of their family establishes their own approach to others to gain their place 

within the group. Each child wants to achieve the feelings of security and belonging among that 

group (Stewart, Stewart, & Campbell, 2001).  

 The family atmosphere can be affected by the quality of the parents’ relationship. While 

the children are growing up, their parents implement their own value system onto their children.  

The interests and values that happen in a family atmosphere can influence the activities that the 

children pursue in their lives.  Adler stated, “It is not, of course, the child’s number in the order 

of successive births which influences his character, but the situation into which he is born and 

the way in which he interprets it” (Stewart, Stewart, & Campbell, 2001, 365). 

  Different human beings can react differently to the same situations. The family 

dynamics change with the birth of each child (Leman, 2001).  Hanushek suggests that differences 

arrive in children of different birth order within the same family. This is because each child is 

born into different intellectual environments. Each time a child enters a family, the environment 

that surrounds the child becomes altered.  Youngest born children enter into a less stimulating 

environment than the first born children do (Gugl & Welling, 2010).   

When a new couple decides to have their first born baby, they get excited about it.  They 

tell all their family and friends as soon as possible.  They spend multiple hours deciding on 

names and reading books to be better parents.   Some parents may try different techniques with 

the child while the child is still in his or her mother’s womb.  As each child is born after the first 


IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

born child, parents tend to become more skilled at tasks such as, changing diapers and feeding.  

They have less time to give the next born child.  

Children’s parents and siblings can teach each child different ways to interact with others.  

The children pick up on the ways to interact with others by observing the people in their 

environment, as well as, being taught values from their parents (McGuirk & Pettijohn II, 2008).  

When thinking about all the different families in a neighborhood, a person must consider the 

culture of the family as well.  All families will have different cultures and norms that can cause 

the child’s birth order perceptions to be different.   Each family has their own beliefs that help 

shape the children into who they are as they grow older (Eckstein & Aycock et al., 2010). 

The quality of the relationship an individual has with their family of origin will be higher 

in couples who are satisfied with each other compared to dissatisfied couples.  The quality of the 

relationship with a person’s partners family of origin was higher when couples where satisfied in 

their relationships.  The better the relationships with the family the more support the couple will 

have.  The more support the couple has from their families of origin the more satisfied that 

couple will be.  It is like a never ending circle.  A couple must be satisfied with themselves 

individually as well to be satisfied in a romantic relationship (Bertoni & Bodenmann, 2010). 

Sibling Relationships 

Alfred Adler believed that a person’s siblings have just as much influence on his or her 

experiences and worldviews as the person’s parents.  Every brother and sister has some 

unpleasant and some pleasant feelings about each other. Siblings can either be best friends or 

enemies. A person will never be as close to someone as he or she is to their siblings if they are 

raised with them.   A person must take into consideration that in today’s world there are some 

siblings that are not raised with each other due to a family giving up a child.  Being raised 


IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 



 

without their blood siblings can have an impact on children. The children may not notice the 

impact it has on them until later on in their lifetime when they can better understand that they 

have a sibling that does not live with them.  Siblings can experience many different adventures 

together that become everlasting memories for them (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).   

 Sibling relationships are the first relationships in a person’s life that develops the 

emotions of love and hate. Love and hate are strong emotions that can lead to other emotions 

such as, anger or excitement (Forer & Still, 1976).  Siblings grow and learn from each other.  

The sibling relationships in which humans are born in are crucial social environments with 

opportunities, costs and niches.  No two siblings are identical in personality, not even identical 

twins.  Each sibling is born into a different environment (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). 

Adler believed that birth order is a great contributor to way children of the same family with 

similar genes end up with very different personalities (Badger & Reddy, 2009). 

While living with their siblings, children may learn to understand the opposite sex if they 

have siblings of the opposite sex.  The male siblings can learn things from the female siblings 

and vice versa. Children can develop attitudes about themselves as a love object.  This can 

happen by their sibling making fun of them.  Female children living with male siblings may try 

and find a substitute for her male sibling later in her adulthood. This is because of the emotional 

bond she formed with her brother while growing up (Forer & Still, 1976). 

 A person does not grow up automatically liking their siblings.  Sibling relationships are 

encouraged by their family members and society, which causes them to have many different 

dynamics involved in their relationships.  Some people may feel jealousy and anger towards their 

siblings and other people are proud of their siblings.  There are many different emotions that 

surround sibling relationships (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).   



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Siblings may receive different amounts of their parent’s affection and attentions.   Each 



child may have different needs than their siblings.  When parents realize the needs of each of 

their children, they may treat each of their children differently.  When favoritism is displayed by 

the parents, the quality of the relationship between the siblings starts to deteriorate.  They get 

jealous of each other (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).     

While growing up, the older siblings have more power and authority over the younger 

ones.  As siblings age they tend to become more equal and closer with each other.  They tend to 

take their own paths and not worry as much about how much attention they are getting from their 

parents (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).  They become more equal in the balance of 

power as the first born children begin to give up some of their control and the second born 

children acquire more control (Tucker & Updegraff, 2010).  They become closer with each other 

because they have gone through many different life changing events with their siblings that are 

the same.  They can relate to each other’s experiences in many ways.  Female siblings play an 

important role to their male siblings because women are often nurturing and emotional. The 

female siblings can teach their male siblings how to be nurturing and emotional (Van Volkom, 

Machiz & Reich, 2011).   

As the siblings get older, they generally have a positive attitude and rely on each other for 

both instrumental and emotional support.  Siblings tend to maintain an emotional bond with each 

throughout their lifetimes. This bond is there even when two sibling do not keep in close contact 

with each other.  As children get older, their siblings can be a good resource for support, love, 

and friendship (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).   

When a person looks at sibling’s relationships after their parents have died, it is obvious 

in some families that their relationships with their families are what keeps them going. Many 



IMPACT OF BIRTH ORDER 

 

11 



 

humans tend to turn towards their siblings during times of need and stress.  When siblings go 

through traumatic life experiences together they tend to grow closer with each other.  It gives 

them a supportive outlet to go to when in need.  Research shows that women are more open to 

turning to their siblings than males (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). 

 Not all siblings get along all the time and of course, siblings fight.  Sibling rivalry can be 

described as jealousy, competition and fighting.  Every child sees themselves as more important 

than their siblings and they need to be taught how to share and be kind to each other. Sometimes 

it is hard for the children to be kind and share with their siblings. The children will see their 

siblings as a rivalry instead.  The way in which each sibling conducts their rivalry with each 

other depends on their immediate and proximate environmental, social, and situational factors.  

Parental conflict and favoritism can increase the rivalry siblings have between each other.  

Adult initiated rivalry and sibling generated rivalry are the two different types of sibling 

rivalry.  Adult initiated rivalry includes parents comparing things between the two siblings, while 

the parents make subtle statements about the two children.  Sibling generated rivalry happens 

when children attempt to gain parental attention and increase their status within the sibling 

relationship.  When siblings are close in age with each other, there is more likely to be more 

competition with each other because they are expected by their parents and other family 

members to like the same things, act the same way, and achieve the same things.   

Research shows that most of the sibling rivalry happens between the ages of 10-15 years.  

Most of the sibling rivalry has occurred within an academic setting. This may be due to the fact 

that while growing up, parents push academics on their children.  Research shows that female 

siblings tend to be more supportive rather than competitive when compared to males (Badger & 

Reddy, 2009). 



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 Sibling’s relationships can impact each child throughout their lives. Sibling relationships 



are thought of as being one of the most consistent and supportive relationships that a human has 

throughout their lifetime. When siblings do not have a good relationship, their parents tend to 

overcompensate by having a supportive relationship with one another.  When thinking about 

siblings in this way, a person must keep in mind that this is not true for all siblings.  Some 

siblings have a falling out and do not tend to have a good relationship as they get older.  Some 

may have a worse relationship than they did when they were younger. Even if siblings do not get 

along with each other they can still form an emotional bond. Instead of the emotional bond being 

positive, it may be negative (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011). 

 The relationships people form with their siblings can impact them throughout their lives. 

Research shows that adults used the same commitment behaviors growing up in sibling 

relationships as in romantic relationships (Van Volkom, Machiz & Reich, 2011).  Sibling 

conflict is typically characterized by destructive strategies and outcomes.  Positive relationship 

experiences relate to more problem solving and less contention (Recchia & Howe, 2009). 

Parental Relationships 

 A child’s place in his or her family strongly influences how he or she copes with other 

people and the world around them.  All members of a family force each other into certain 

behavior patterns as they interact with each other to meet their needs of belonging and 

significance. They learn ways of coping with situations and other people from the members of 

their environment and family (Forer & Still, 1976).   

Parents or other caregivers are responsible for the initial shaping of attachment 

representations in a child.  Attachment patterns are shaped by the family of origin in early 

childhood.  These patterns continue to have an influence over the years.  Research shows that 


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looking at a person’s attachment orientation in infancy predicts the emotional quality of romantic 

relationships a person will have in early adulthood.  Research shows a significant association 

between the parent and child relationships and adult romantic relationships functioning.  

Observations of a child’s interactions with their parents can predict important features of the 

interactions the child will have with a romantic relationship partner during their early adulthood 

years (Dinero, Conger, Shaver, Widaman & Larsen-Rife, 2011).  




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