Should Management Positions be Reserved for Firstborns?: Birth order and it’s effects in HR.

Birth order refers to the order a child is born in their family. It is often believed to have a profound and lasting effect on psychological development and outcomes, which in turn has an effect on various avenues of ones life, purportedly as well as ones performance in the workplace.

Various studies have been conducted on birth order and it’s effects in the organisation. Ronni Pavan  found that First-born children tend to outperform their younger siblings on measures such as cognitive exams, wages, educational attainment, and employment (check out his study). Factors such as superior cognitive capabilities, high academic status and relevant previous work experience are highly sort after for executive and management positions. Thus if first born children out perform their younger siblings, should they exclusively be sought after or is the study telling us they are just more likely to get the job?

Conversely, an article from the Journal of Human Resources examining the effects of birth order on human capital in Ecuador found that earlier-born children from poor and low-educated families are actually behind their siblings in their human capital development. Whilst this is reversed  in rich and high-educated families were earlier born children are ahead of their siblings in human capital development.

Generally it is believed that the following traits and characteristics correspond with the following birth orders;


These traits then purpotedly play out in the following ways in an organisation;

First Borns

You’ll know you are working with a first born because he or she will likely come across as being very assertive and confident. This individual may be fearful about losing their position or rank and will do what it takes to defend it. To be comfortable in the work place or any place for that matter, they must be in control.They are said to be born leaders because they are practical, confident, and able to delegate and make rapid decisions. However, these traits aren’t without flaws.  First Borns are also described as being intolerant of those that do not work like them, they are not necessarily team players, and tend to avoid risk. Nonetheless, research points to First Borns being very strong leaders,   USA Today conducted a study and found 59% were First Born.

Middle Borns

Middle Borns tend to be very independent and a bit more unconventional on the job and in their personal lives. They are also claimed to be more empathetic and relationship focused, which makes them great team players, they are the ‘peacemakers.’ From a leadership perspective, they are not  very quick to voice their opinion and prefer to search for options. However due to their unconventionality they bring have a creative edge in their management style. However, due to their role as the peacemaker, they might find it hard to make the tough decisions.

Last Borns

As the baby of the family, you can probably see the Last Born coming from miles away. They are the ones that are very outgoing, risk-oriented, and creative. Last Borns are also quite spontaneous  which can be both positive and negative in the workplace depending on the situation. Lastly, they are used to getting their way, and if turned down they know every trick in the book to get what they want.Last Borns strive to get to the top of their career through every way possible, including taking risks. Someone with this drive is certainly a positive in your company.. However, it is important that Last Borns do not let their impulsiveness ruin their career.

Only Children

Only children are much like First Borns, but tend to mimic adult behavior from the beginning. The Only Child tends to be very self centered and an extreme perfectionist. Some say the Only Child can come across as impersonal. You’ll often find them just doing the work themselves rather than delegating it because of this perfectionism trait. For this reason, they will also impose very high expectations on their fellow co-workers or subordinates. They are definitely not quick to forgive. However, they are very self motivated and extremely independent.

Most of us can agree that classifying a co-worker or boss’ personality based on their birth order is not a valid predictor of behavior, largely because there are so many other variables that influence personality, more so for birth order as it is part of one’s family background and can be related to religion, social economic status and ethnicity. Furthermore, what would differentiate recruitment or performance assessments based on birth order from typical stereotyping?

Admittedly, it is certainly an interesting tool that should be kept in mind when observing others. For the most part, birth order appears to be more significant for inspiring questions about personality and style than providing answers for recruitment choices and promotion potential. Until there is a more verification and substantiation, we may have to stick to good old fashioned psychometric tests and interviews.




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