Study Explains How The First Born Child Is Often The Most Intelligent

There’s an age-old quip about the competition between siblings that has made its rounds in living rooms and playgrounds for generations: “First is the worst, second is the best!” But could there possibly be a grain of truth to the rhyme, especially when it comes to birth order and intelligence? Recent studies suggest that the order in which you are born might have more impact on your mental faculties than previously thought. In this in-depth exploration, we’ll peel back the layers of sibling dynamics to uncover insights on the intelligence of first-born children.

Birth Order and Intelligence

While birth order hasn’t traditionally been considered a significant factor in the development of a child’s intelligence, evidence from a number of studies has begun to paint a different picture. One such study, conducted by a team from the University of Edinburgh, analyzed data from a large longitudinal study that followed more than 5,000 children. The results indicated that first-born children typically have a slight but significant advantage in IQ over their younger siblings.

The First-Born Edge

The study pointed towards parent-driven developmental changes to explain the higher intelligence of first-born children. Eldest siblings may receive more undivided attention from parents during critical periods of cognitive development, which could lead to more advanced linguistic and reasoning skills. This initial educational advantage is posited to stem from the focus on the first-born’s development and the tendency for parents to be stricter with them, thus perhaps shaping their work ethic and determination from a young age.

Nurture Over Nature

Social science has long grappled with the debate of nature versus nurture, and this study brings the conversation back to the forefront. It suggests that nurture, particularly the unique experience of being a first-born child, can play a pivotal role in cognitive development. The social phenomenon where parents invest heavily in their first child, both emotionally and intellectually, may be the key to unlocking this intelligence disparity.

Sibling Dynamics

The dynamic between first-born and later-born siblings can be complex, often defying simple categorization. The first-born is typically known for being responsible, reliable, and leadership-inclined, while second-borns are seen as the trailblazers, often competing for attention by finding their own unique path. Understanding these dynamics in context with intelligence is essential to fully grasp the implications of birth order.

An Unbalanced Equation

The comparison with later-born siblings frames the intelligence of first-born children as part of a more extensive family structure. While the study suggests that first-borns are, on average, more intelligent, it’s important to note that this is a generalized finding and that the intelligence of a child is influenced by a multitude of factors, including genetics, individual circumstances, and chance.

Family Environment’s Role

The family environment, much like a microcosm of society, can dictate the roles children assume based on their birth order. This early shaping of expectations from parents and the family unit can exert far-reaching effects that may permeate throughout a child’s academic, professional, and personal life.

Educational and Career Success

Bridging the gap between birth order and intelligence, this section examines the academic achievements and career milestones of first-borns. It’s a deep dive into how the early advantages perceived in first-born children translate into measurable success as they transition into adulthood.

The Academic Journey

The correlation between being the first-born and excelling academically seems to be more than mere coincidence. The study posits that the enhanced linguistic skills and structured learning environment that first-borns are often exposed to can be a catalyst for their academic success. Additionally, as leaders and role models within the family, first-borns may develop a strong sense of responsibility, which can translate into disciplined study habits and a drive for achievement.

A Professional Perspective

The trends observed in academic settings often carry over into the professional world, with first-borns leveraging their early childhood education and leadership skills to secure and excel in their careers. This phenomenon is supportive of the idea that birth order influences cognitive development and, thus, subsequent professional success.

Critical Analysis

No study is free from scrutiny, and this study investigating birth order and intelligence is no different. It has faced a fair share of criticisms, with some questioning the rigidity of the findings and the generalizability of the conclusions.

The Limits of Generalization

One of the primary criticisms is related to the potential bias introduced by the models and study design. The findings are based on a large sample size, but the question of whether this success can be attributed solely to birth order remains open. Generalizations also ignore the wide spectrum of child development, highlighting the need for more nuanced models that account for individual differences.

The Role of Chance and Circumstance

Another critical viewpoint suggests that the sibling order is merely a coincidental variable in a much larger equation. There are numerous cases where later-born siblings far exceed the achievements of their older counterparts, pointing towards the inherent randomness and unpredictability of individual development.

Beyond Birth Order

While birth order has been pointed to as a factor in the intelligence and success of first-born children, it’s crucial to acknowledge the many other variables at play. Genetics, individual experiences, and larger societal influences all contribute to the multifaceted nature of intelligence and success.

Environmental Influences

Environmental factors, including socioeconomic status, community resources, and educational opportunities, have a significant impact on a child’s cognitive development. Birth order is just one piece of the puzzle, warranting a broader perspective that accounts for the complexity of social environments.

The Genetic Component

Genetics also play a vital role in determining a child’s intelligence. Studies of identical and fraternal twins have demonstrated that genetics contribute substantially to cognitive abilities, which suggests that hereditary factors are just as influential, if not more so, than birth order.


The relationship between birth order and intelligence is an intriguing area of study with implications that extend far beyond the realms of academia. While the evidence indicates that first-born children may have a cognitive edge, it’s important to recognize the complexities of human development and the myriad influences that shape our intellectual capacities.

Encouraging further research and debate on this topic is essential in refining our understanding of cognitive development. By exploring the themes of family dynamics, early childhood education, and societal expectations, we can gain insights that may inform policy, education, and parenting for years to come. The study at the heart of this exploration is not the final word on the subject, but rather a springboard for deeper inquiry into what makes us who we are, both as individuals and as members of our families.