Survey shows link between birth order and career

By Rachel Small

It may seem like child’s play, but the effects of birth order on a person’s personality and life may linger long after childhood. Both studies and stereotypes on the subject abound.

A recent survey by CareerBuilder.com showing how birth order can affect not only a person’s career, but also their performance within that career adds to this mix, .

According to the survey, the oldest children tended to be involved in careers requiring higher amounts of education, including government and engineering jobs. Middle children preferred more people-oriented careers, such as nursing and law enforcement. Youngest children were more likely to choose artistic and outdoors professions, but showed strongly in sales and information technology as well.

“We’re always looking for interesting angles into why people choose certain careers,” said Allison Nawoj, career adviser at CareerBuilder. “This is just another angle we wanted to explore.”

Sociology professor Ray Muhammad said birth order can have a definite influence on a person’s personality.

“The family upbringing and the kinds of responsibilities you’re given as a child can impact the career you’re drawn to,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad said firstborns often share parenting duties, especially in large families, and tend to be more conscientious.

Alaina Gawlak, sophomore in LAS, said she feels she has to set the bar high for her younger brother.

“I feel like I’m a lot more organized,” Gawlak said. “I feel like I have to watch what I’m doing because it will affect how my brother ends up living.”

Muhammad said children born later tend to be more free-spirited.

“Later borns are a little more extroverted, a little more non-conforming,” Muhammad said. “There are some roles in society that cater to that kind of mind.”

The CareerBuilder.com survey agreed with this analysis. Middle children tended to have jobs requiring more interaction with others.

“Middle children tend to have excellent negotiating and people skills,” Nawoj said.

“I’m always in the middle, where I don’t get too much attention, but I don’t get left out too much,” said Laura Roman, freshman in general studies who is a middle child. “I am myself more. I’m more independent.”

Last borns are “a little more creative,” Nawoj said. Many had careers in art and design. However, youngest children did report the highest amount of job dissatisfaction among all three groups.

Children with no siblings were not considered in the survey.

Muhammad said he believes birth order does influence both career and success, but other factors apply as well. He said most surveys focus on the traditional structure of American middle class white families. Results within other communities could vary.

“When you’re looking at ethnic minority families that have to deal with either racism or violence or poverty, you’re looking at a whole different story,” Muhammad said. “The kind of surrogate parenting responsibilities that older siblings take on have to do with survival, as opposed to teaching, training, minding or keeping the rules set.”

Family size, in addition to birth order, can also affect a person’s development. Social reformers, for example, are more likely to come from large families, Muhammad said.

Rebecca Stephens, sophomore in LAS and a firstborn, said she thinks the effects of birth order can vary.

“I think it’s different in every family,” Stephens said.