Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Quote of the Day: Birth Order Plays A Big Part In How Well-Matched We Are With Our Partners

New day, new study. This one suggests that our birth order plays a big part in forming our character, which plays a large role in determining how well-matched we are with potential partners.

“The foundations of your character were established ­primarily before the age of six or seven – a period when your place in the family was a big factor in your life. Indeed, a growing number of psychological ­studies show that birth positions have a strong effect on character. […] What looking at birth positions will do is help you negotiate the minefield of potential influences on character by ­giving you the likely characteristics of any potential partner. Which means that knowing your ­lover’s position in a family will definitely help predict how difficult or easy it will be to get along…”


I am a first-born and Drew is a last-born (we both each have one sibling of the same sex), which, according to this study, means we are the “happiest choice” for each other. “One reason is that the eldest in a family is likely to be an organized and caring person. A last-born enjoys being dependent on someone else, but also tends to be less organized.” That’s nice, but God help you if you and your partner are both first-borns, both only children, or one first-born and one only child. The study suggests these are the worst matches if we’re to believe that birth order plays a big role in character development.

I’d like to know how character development is affected for those whose birth orders were not determined in the formative years from birth to six years old. For example, I was an only child until I was nearly seven (today happens to be my sister’s 28th birthday, actually; Happy birthday, Allie!), so did my character just change overnight when I became an older sibling? And what about people who were only children until much later in life? Or those who were the last-born well into their grade-school years (or older) before a surprise younger sibling made an appearance?

What’s the birth order of you and your significant other (or a past relationship if you aren’t in one now)? Do you agree with the study’s summary of partnerships? [via Daily Mail]

38 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Wolvie_girl January 31, 2011, 1:23 pm

    Either this study is a bunch of bunk (that’s my first instinct) or me, my SO and our families are complete anomalies. I and my SO are both last borns. We are both organized and VERY independant.

    My brother (the first born in our family) is not organized AT ALL, and has never been alone. He is married now (almost 10 years and he’s only 31) and has literally been in relationships almost non-stop since he was in about 7th grade.

    My SO’s two older sisters depend on him for EVERYTHING. He even sent xmas gifts to one sister’s kids because money was tight this year and she couldn’t afford to buy them gifts.

    I think relying on a study like this when making relationship descisions is rediculous. Take your time getting to know someone before rushing into a relationship and you’ll be fine.

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    QTKT January 31, 2011, 1:28 pm

    I’ve always been interested in birth order, but not sure how it applies to me. I am my father’s first child, but my mother’s second. I have an older half-sister that is 9 years older (and a younger brother 2 years apart). While there is a wide age range, my sister spent very little time with her biological father and we shared a room growing up. Additionally, I’m sure my parents had very different approaches – a baby was a totally new thing to my dad whereas my mom had already been through it all before. I think in some ways I act as a first child being very organized, but I also had a lot of typical middle child experiences as well.

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      Jimnist January 31, 2011, 4:52 pm

      @QTKT, I’m in the same boat as you. My older bro is 13 years older than me (from my mom’s first marriage) and my little bro is 3 years younger than me. My older brother is in many ways like an only child and I am definitely a “first born”, while my little bro is definitely a “last born”.

      My best relationships have been with “last born” kids, whereas my absolute worst, worst, worst relationships have been with only children. The “first born” guys I’ve dated have been “alright”. Take that for what you will. I’m not a slave to birth order or anything, but I tend to become quite skeptical of guys when they tell me they are “only children”.

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        QTKT January 31, 2011, 5:22 pm

        I’ve seriously dated fist, middle, and last borns. I would have to say that the middle born guy I dated was the worst – clingy and whined way too often. I married a first born. I like that he is more out going than me, someone I can go on adventures with. Maybe the shy side is my middle child side… But when we do butt heads it’s because we both can be too stubborn sometimes – most likely a first born trait!

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    Steeze January 31, 2011, 1:41 pm

    well, this is pretty spot on for me and my bf. im a last born. messy, needs affection, fun-loving. hes mister neat freak, independant and nurturing. im also best friends with my oldest sibling for the same reasons.

    dont think these generalizations always apply but i know a lot of people whos traits resemble depending on their family order…

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    expert dabbler January 31, 2011, 1:46 pm

    There’s probably something to this but only in really very general terms. I’m the last-born, and I am really unorganized, whereas my brother is much more organized. However, caring is not a word I would use to describe him, and being dependent on someone causes me a lot of anxiety. My last long-term relationship was with the oldest in his family. He could be really needy but damned if he wasn’t super organized.

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    princesspetticoat January 31, 2011, 1:55 pm

    Hmm this is interesting and does kind of make sense. Thinking back, all of my significant relationships have been with last borns and I’m a first born. At least, I think I would be considered a first born. I’m technically an only child since my parents divorced and both remarried after I was born. I now have 4 younger half-siblings and a stepbrother.

    But Wendy, I’m similar to you in that my oldest sibling is still 5 (almost 6) years younger than me. Perhaps this means that we would have characteristics of both first born and only child? It says that last borns and only children are still a potentially good match!

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    Diana January 31, 2011, 2:13 pm

    hmm very interesting. my SO and i are both firsts (i dated another first born who acted more like a last) and neither of us wants to be in charge a lot, but we both have a nurturing aspect and i really think that holds true for firsts, especially if there are enough years between the first and second born so they don’t feel like twins… speaking of, where do twins fall into this study? thoughts?

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    Laurel January 31, 2011, 2:18 pm

    I’m the younger sibling (brother is 4 years older), and my boyfriend has two (10 years) older half siblings (one each from his parents’ previous marriages). I don’t really think this study takes into account blended families and whatnot. My bf’s older brother was barely around, and his sister had twins when my bf was 7, so my bf is much more like an older brother than an uncle to his nephews. Also, both his parents’ older children are kind of screw-ups (neither has ever held a job for longer than two years, and they’re in their mid-thirties), so growing up my brother had a lot of responsibility placed on him to be the good child and grow up so he could be responsible for his older siblings.

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    ArtsyGirly January 31, 2011, 2:21 pm

    Great article though I think there also needs to be some talk about genders. I am an eldest born girl (with a younger sister) and my husband is a middle born (of three boys). I am much more organized since I have both our DVD and 4 bookshelves alphabetized. I also show tendencies towards nurturing (I bake for EVERYONE and would adopt every stray animal I come across). My husband shows most characteristics typical of a middle. He is very outgoing and always wants to be entertaining. Also, he is a joker who loves doing spontaneous things with friends and family. But the article suggests that I should be much more domineering than is true. I am extremely passive and the hubby tends to make many of the decisions with my input. Also, my sister are I are only a year and a day apart so we are almost more twins than older and younger sibling.

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    Laurel January 31, 2011, 2:24 pm

    Oh also, another rambling anecdote (sorry 😉 ), I think this might hold true for only children. (Some only children, not all obviously. Only children whose parents doted on them and treated them like the center of the universe.) I once dated a guy who was an only child until he was 8, and then he had two younger sisters born a couple years apart. Man it burned him up! We dated as teenagers, and it was obvious he was still really jealous of any attention his sisters got. He was also completely self-centered and only thought of how everything impacted him.

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    awendybird January 31, 2011, 2:58 pm

    I’m not sure how this applies to my boyfriend and me. I was the baby of the family (one older sister) until age 12 when my brother was born (same parents-if that makes a difference). My boyfriend is the oldest of two (he has a younger sister). I’d say he’s probably more organized, but we are both pretty caring (at least to each other). Although I think these characteristics may apply generally speaking, I also think more of your character comes from how you were raised and what you took away from your upbringing.

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    evanscr05 January 31, 2011, 3:02 pm

    Hm, well, according to this study I am in one of the worst combo’s. My fiance and I are both first borns, both have siblings of the opposite sex, and both siblings are at minimum 2 years younger than us. And actually, I think all of my past boyfriends have been this way. I did have a FWB in college who was the younger sibling and although I love him to pieces as my friend, I could never date him because he’s waaaaay too unorganized for my taste. My guy and I are both pretty self-sufficient (I don’t want to say independent because we have our moments of dependency) and organized, but at differing things. He’s really organized when it comes to the finances (which is partly because of his job as a banker) whereas I’m really organized when it comes to the household. This study is complete crap. It’s all about how well you complement each other overall. Birth order may be a contributing factor, but it in no way determines how well you will work out. I call shenanigans!

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      Wolvie_girl January 31, 2011, 3:49 pm

      Total Shenanigans!

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    Sallie January 31, 2011, 3:04 pm

    Ooh, this is interesting. My current SO and I are both middle-borns, and we have a terrible time making small decisions together like where or what to eat for dinner, but I’m learning to think of something–anything–and suggest it rather than say “I dunno, what do you want to do?”

    My most recent ex was a first-born, and he completely dominated every aspect of the relationship–conversations, decisions… he even drove me everywhere! Because of this I let myself take the back seat in the relationship, and I’m really starting to notice how different it is with my current SO. It’s much better, by the way.

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    missarissa January 31, 2011, 3:13 pm

    Well this stinks! i wasn’t even ON the list! my SO is a first born and I’m a middle born. Though I seem to have been absent the day they taught sharing and compromise, because I tend to be very territorial and headstrong (i think it comes from 18 years of having to share everything, being too young for this and too old for that).. but my SO is very good about those things, as a first born should be. What about us??

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    Leyahn January 31, 2011, 3:31 pm

    I am a the last born (of two girls) and I am the organized, caring one. My first born sister is more dependent on others and less organized. We are 2 1/2 years apart.

    So, the study has us wrong!!! LOL

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  • avatar

    Anna January 31, 2011, 3:41 pm

    Ok, this doesn’t really describe us at all! My SO is a first born and I am last born…he is the least organized person I know. He uses the “pile method” for everything, including his clothes but somehow can usually find everything. He is not very motivated and doesn’t really help with cleaning the house…ever. I am much more organized than he is and I do all of the cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. I am very independent and don’t need to rely on anyone except for him paying half the rent and giving me grocery money sometimes.

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    Anne (I Go To 11) January 31, 2011, 4:29 pm

    Sheesh, Wendy, you and I have a lot in common. Aside from us both being native Midwesterners and growing up all over the world (military brat here), I was also an only child until the age of 7 (when my sister, my only sibling, was born), and my husband is the last-born of 2, with a brother who’s 7 years older.

    The relationship I have with my husband is the best I’ve ever had, and we communicate with each other extremely well. Contrast that to my first marriage; my ex is also a first-born. We CONSTANTLY were butting heads. Trying to communicate, especially once the newness of marriage wore off, was strained and sometimes damn near impossible.

    I don’t think the personality attributes the study claims is all that accurate for my husband and I, though. He’s hardly a risk-taker, and I’m the more fun-loving one. Hmm.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy January 31, 2011, 4:55 pm

      Wow, that is a lot in common! You don’t have red hair, too, do you?

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      • avatar

        Anne (I Go To 11) January 31, 2011, 6:32 pm

        No, I’m a natural blonde…although I’ve attempted to go red (with shades varying from strawberry blonde to deep auburn) on several occasions. 🙂

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  • courtney89

    courtney January 31, 2011, 4:46 pm

    I am the third born with an older brother and a twin sister. They both are super protective of me (even my twin, who acts like im the “younger” sister when we are the same age- quite annoying! Im dependant on people in my life to a certain degree, but I really try to be really dependant and work for what i get. And, my older brother, as the oldest, is not a very organized person at all, while I try to stay organized. Our sister, the “middle” one meanwhile- makes lists every time she goes out of town, and when we went to help our brother move out last year, she was the most anal person there about making sure things are organized!! I think I would be pretty compatible mostly with first-born guys, but i dont limit it, because who knows the perfect guy for me might also be a last born!

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  • avatar

    Maracuya January 31, 2011, 8:14 pm

    Hmm. This study sounds pretty fake to me. I was an only child up until almost 16, and my boyfriend is also an only child. I would say, I’m slightly messier and slightly less organized than he is. We’re both responsible and organized but also relaxed. I’d say we’re pretty compatible. 🙂

    Out of my friends, I know plenty who are the youngest and are organized and independent to a fault and others who may be first-born or only and can’t cook a meal or do laundry for themselves. I think there’s too much variation between family structure, dynamics and culture to easily categorize people based on birth order.

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  • avatar

    Lucy January 31, 2011, 8:20 pm

    This “new” study isn’t exactly news… this is classic Bowen theory and has been around for decades.

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      Woman of Words February 3, 2011, 9:40 am

      Yes, I agree. We spent a lot of time on these theories in pre-marital counselling, almost 20 years ago! I’m not sure about the combinations, however being aware that often a response of a SO can be related to birth order is helpful.

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  • avatar

    Jessicaxmx January 31, 2011, 10:07 pm

    I strongly disagree.

    I am the last born and I have one older brother who was born two years before me. Growing up he was so passive and didn’t talk much till about the 11th grade. He lost a lot of weight and his ego took the best of him. His friends preferred hanging out with me, his younger sister than to him.

    I, on the other hand, spoke my mind, had lots of friends growing up until I got to highschool. I really don’t remember what the hell I was doing honestly before that. When I got to highschool I believe I really changed as my attitudes and character. If you knew me before the 7th or 8th grade I was a completely different person.

    My SO is a middle child.. I think we match up pretty good. He cleans and is tidy, but has the tendency of getting messy.

    I have to say that I really don’t believe in this quote…

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  • avatar

    Red_Lady January 31, 2011, 10:21 pm

    Fits me perfectly – I’m a first born, and pretty organized and caring. My bf is last-born, and he’s definitely less organized than me! (though most guys are, so maybe it has nothing to do w/ birth order)

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  • avatar

    thefierycrash February 1, 2011, 1:53 pm

    hmm… i’m a last born and all of my serious relationships have been with other last borns. strange. my siblings are 9 and 12 years older than me so i was also sort of raised like an only child. my boyfriend is in the same position with much older siblings. i personally think i got the best spot in the family (except for the fact that i will always be seen as the baby and my opinions hold very little weight. hmpf).

    i would agree with the article in that he finds it hard to plan ahead sensibly and i have a hard time completing the mundane daily life tasks. but a creative partnership it is. we just have to be kept in check when we don’t get what we want and want to pout about it.

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  • avatar

    Emi February 1, 2011, 4:18 pm

    Holy crap:

    “A middle-born and an only child
    A single and a middle-born also make a fairly good match. The ­single will probably want to take charge, and the co-operative middle-born will be happy to allow this.
    There’s a potential drawback in this match, though. Middle-borns with only-child partners can feel overshadowed and/or over-directed, yet they probably won’t be able to recognise why they’re feeling this way.
    This could even lead to feelings of depression in the middle-born. That’s why, in such matches, it’s particularly important for the ­couple to talk through their plans and ideas on a regular basis and make sure they feel right to both of them.”

    Completely describes my current situations. WOW.

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    Bucketsofrain February 1, 2011, 6:28 pm

    I’ve thought about this before. I’m an oldest sibling, and I have actually felt closest to other oldest siblings because I feel like we have had similar family experiences- i.e. looking after younger siblings, etc. I feel like this might be the way it is for youngest or middle children, as well. It’s like a club.

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  • avatar

    undergradmomii February 1, 2011, 6:57 pm

    I’m the first born while my boyrfriend is the last born (and definitely plays the role of mama’s boy). The funny thing I found was that I’m the less organized person; he actually becomes frustrated with my messiness and I get annoyed when he tries to clean my apartment. But I am a very compassionate person and it shows when I try to keep him happy by taking care of his needs. And he in turn takes care of me especially on my bad days or when I just really want something from the fridge.

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    LouLouBell February 2, 2011, 1:02 pm

    I don’t believe your birth order has any relevance to your characteristics. How would they decide for half-siblings and such?
    I am the first born with one younger brother. My boyfriend is the first born with a younger sister from his father but the fourth born with the same younger sister from his mother. How do you figure that out?!
    Also, what if the family has step-siblings that have been around since a young age? That has got to be a factor too… right?

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  • avatar

    Emma February 2, 2011, 5:42 pm

    So… what about middle children? Or youngest children who feel like they were middle children, given their brother’s maturity level? Or girls with all brothers?

    I’m the youngest with two brothers, one of whom is not very socially mature (he’s anti-social), and a good relationship with the eldest. My fiance is the eldest of two, with a younger sister, but his parents are divorced, and there have been other children thrown into the mix every once in awhile (his father remarries a lot). And after all of this, I intend on being the breadwinner, with him relying on me for money, but neither of us are organized.

    Yeah, I think this is a bunch of hooey.

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  • avatar

    Adria February 3, 2011, 10:21 pm

    I think the study is over generalizing personality traits.
    And, to say a relationship is doomed because of something like birth order is ridiculous.

    I’m the first born, and while I am independent, I’m also kind of a slob. My boyfriend, depending on how you look at it, is either the first born, or an only child. He was raised by his grandmother until he was almost eight, then moved in with his mother and she had his two younger brothers years after. In a way, he is half a big brother, and because of the age difference, half a father figure (their dad is present and very loving, but works a lot).

    So we are, depending on your definitions of birth order, either a first born with a first born, or a first born with an only child. Both are in the “worst” section. And yet we are both easy going, are best friends (which we were before we were a couple), have an amazing relationship, true chemistry, and great communication.

    So – while studies like this bring up some interesting ideas, they are definitely not something to adhere to. It would be like breaking up with someone who you were really liking and feeling a connection to, simply because you were informed that their astrology sign is said to not get along with yours.

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    PFG-SCR February 4, 2011, 10:39 pm

    I’ve read different articles about birth order and compatibility, but there are obviously significantly more variables at play than just birth order. Even in a family where the children are closely spaced, family dynamics and children’s personalities and behaviors can be altered based on conditions such as significant illness/loss of a parent, substance abuse of a parent, divorce, etc.

    I’m a middle child, but my personality is more like the oldest child (for a variety of reasons that I actually do understand). My husband is the youngest child, which would then indicate a seemingly oldest child and youngest child combination. Some of the stereotypical characteristics of oldest and youngest children are consistent with our personalities, and I think those characteristics _do_ have a favorable impact on our compatibility.

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    Cambri February 6, 2011, 3:12 am

    My fiance and I are both first-born, so I think we clash a bit on the whole “take care of others, responsible, independent” front. We’re both VERY independent.

    The birth order theory is very fascinating to me, but it’s also very common-sense. First born children are naturally going to have some sort of responsibility for their younger siblings, they will probably have to look after themselves because of the younger siblings, and they care about their younger siblings. On the flip side, younger siblings are used to be taken care of. Only children are used to being the centre of attention.

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    Melusine March 19, 2011, 10:07 pm

    Birth order can have a lot of impact on relationships, but the thing most of these studies don’t explain is how to figure out your birth order role, because you can have more than one, and it’s not just a case of oldest to youngest.

    While the standard pattern and some examples are Oldest Child (Hero), Middle Child (Clowns or Lost Child), Babies (Rebel Child or Star), and Only Child, any time there is greater than 5 years between 2 (or more) siblings, you have an additional, repeating set of birth order roles influencing the younger children, in addition to their role relative to the older children. The research is probably based on the ideal nuclear family, but since modern life is composed of families with multiple marriages, adoptions, and foster families, figuring out one’s roles(s) is tricky. I think cultural values that a person grows up with would also be very significant, and could be quite different from this model.

    For example, in my own family of origin, I am a “Baby” relative to my much older siblings. However, because they are much older, I have the additional role dynamics of the “Only Child” and, to some extent, the “Oldest Child” influencing my relationships. I find when I get involved with other “Babies”, they are attracted to my “Oldest Child” role, but we ultimately fight over attention. Conversely, when I have been involved with “Oldest Child” people, they are attracted to my “Baby” role, but we tend to squabble over who’s the leader, LOL:) And, in all cases, because of the influence of the “Only Child” dynamic, where I didn’t have to share resources or my parent’s time with other siblings, in my adult relationships I need to make sure I am attentive to sharing, instead of hogging the spotlight or assuming needs are being met.

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  • avatar

    Melusine March 19, 2011, 10:11 pm

    Birth order can have a lot of impact on relationships, but the thing most of these studies don’t explain is how to figure out your birth order role, because you can have more than one, and it’s not just a case of oldest to youngest.

    While the standard pattern and some examples are Oldest Child (Hero), Middle Child (Clowns or Lost Child), Babies (Rebel Child or Star), and Only Child, any time there is greater than 5 years between 2 (or more) siblings, you have an additional, repeating set of birth order roles influencing the younger children, in addition to their role relative to the older children. The research is probably based on the ideal nuclear family, but real life is composed of families with multiple marriages, figuring out one’s roles(s) is tricky.

    For example, in my own family of origin, I am a “Baby” relative to my much older siblings. However, because they are much older, I have the additional role dynamics of the “Only Child” and, to some extent, the “Oldest Child” influencing my relationships. I find when I get involved with other “Babies”, they are attracted to my “Oldest Child” role, but we ultimately fight over attention. Conversely, when I have been involved with “Oldest Child” people, they are attracted to my “Baby” role, but we tend to squabble over who’s the leader, LOL:) And, in all cases, because of the influence of the “Only Child” dynamic, where I didn’t have to share resources or my parent’s time with other siblings, in my adult relationships I need to make sure I am attentive to sharing, instead of hogging the spotlight or assuming needs are being met.

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