Personality as Defined by Birth Order

I wear a pedometer on my waistband. Supposedly, I check it mid-day to see if I’ve met my daily goal of steps. In reality, I ignore it until bedtime, then write down how many steps I took and ignore it again until morning. Yesterday, as I was cooking dinner, my youngest son came up behind me and said, “Mom, your speedometer says you’re going 2,194 miles per hour! Is that possible?” I confirmed–yes, it is possible for Mom to go that many miles per hour, and even faster on hectic days. 

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(Busy Mom pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)
 
Now you’re wondering what this cute story has to do with writing? Let me tell you. My youngest son frequently says funny things. My older two boys also said cute things when they were smaller, but the youngest gets the prize for funnies. I think it’s because he’s listened to his two older brothers and picked up some big vocabulary words he’s not quite sure how to use in a sentence. He wants to participate in the big people’s conversations, so he tries out unfamiliar words, or attempts a serious conversation about concepts and topics he doesn’t fully understand, and the result is something adorable or funny or  (in some cases) downright rude. It made me wonder: are all youngest kids funnier than older kids? Does birth order have anything to do with humor? Most importantly, how do I use this in my novels?
 
If you’ve never studied the concept of birth order affecting personality and behaviors, look into it. There’s some interesting stuff out there, and I don’t have time or space to do an in-depth study here. However, I want to hit the basics. Is your protagonist the first-born? If he is, he’s probably reliable, conscientious, structured, controlling, and ambitious. The middle-born child is often the peace-maker, seeking to please people, somewhat rebellious, thrives on friendships, and has a large social circle. The youngest child tend to be more free-spirited, fun-loving, uncomplicated, manipulative, outgoing, attention-seeking, and self-centered. Being the only child in a family usually means extra maturity for their age (doesn’t necessarily apply to adults, but it can), and only-children can also be perfectionists, conscientious, diligent, and natural-born leaders.
 
These are generalities, but they’re quite reliable. I’m the oldest in my family, and I have all those oldest-born traits. My youngest son has many of the last-born traits (he’s not very outgoing). Here’s an interesting concept you could play with: sometimes the middle child, if there’s a massive age gap between him and the next oldest, will have some traits of the middle-born and some traits of the first-born. In situations like that, the oldest may also possess some of the only-child traits.
 
Www.parents.com has some great information on birth orders and personalities. An interesting bit I found is there are situations in which the birth order doesn’t matter. Blended families with step children, foster children, or adopted children, don’t usually follow the “rules” (although they can). The article also clearly states that personality is not fixed by birth order, so don’t feel the need to make your first-born protagonist out to be a controlling guy, or a middle-born character to be a peacemaker. There’s plenty of wiggle room in this interesting arena.
 
Do you use these concepts when creating your characters? Do you even know if your characters have siblings and what order they came in? Do you think it matters? Share in the comments section, please.
 
-Sonja
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2 thoughts on “Personality as Defined by Birth Order

  1. Your story also helps us think about language. A character can create new words (neologisms), misuse words, or attach new meanings to words as a means to revealing her/his personality, but that can only come when we get deep inside our characters’ heads and see, hear and feel the world from their point of view. (Easier written than done.)

    • Good point, Peter. Thank you for sharing. I’ll never forget the time my middle son said, “That scared me out of my daylights!” He’d heard the phrase before and made it uniquely his own.

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