Even though most parents try to treat children equally, firstborns are more ambitious and also more advantaged in education, according to British research published in a working paper that also found firstborn girls outperform firstborn boys.
Feifei Bu of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex looked at birth order and family structure in terms of the individual's ambition.
Slate titled its coverage of the study "Firstborn Girls are Statistically More Likely to Run the World."
"What do Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, JK Rowling and Beyoncé have in common? Other than riding high in Forbes list of the world's most powerful women, they are also all firstborn children in their families," noted The Guardian's Tracy McVeigh.
The study "appears to show that, if you are the eldest child and female, you are statistically more likely to be the most ambitious and well-qualified of all your family," McVeigh wrote, adding that firstborn boys are next in line in terms of success and that all 12 men who walked on the moon were firstborn or only children. More than half of U.S. presidents and Nobel Prize recipients were also firstborn.
Earlier studies in Scandinavian and other countries have already found that firstborns are more likely to be ambitious than younger siblings, though that research did not consider the gender of the firstborns.
The new research followed 1,500 sibling groups (3,532 children) through the British Household Panel Study and a subsequent study. After controlling for parent education and professional status, the researchers said firstborns were 7 percent more likely to continue to get an education, compared to younger brothers and sisters.
The research also noted that having more time between the births of siblings increases the likelihood of higher educational attainment.
Slate's Katy Waldman wrote: "On the other hand, the researchers write, 'We see no evidence that the sex of one’s siblings has any effect on educational aspiration or outcomes. Nor do we find a strong relationship between sibship size and either educational aspiration or attainment.' (So you can’t blame your grades on how many siblings you have or what gender they are.) What does seem meaningful is the time spacing between children: Eldest kids separated from their brothers and sisters by a significant age gap — four or more years — are likelier, at 13, to express an interest in higher education, and they go on to pursue more advanced degrees."
“Educational disparities exist not only between families but also within families. It is interesting that we observe a distinct firstborn advantage in education even though parents in modern society are more likely to be egalitarian in treating their children,” Bu said in a written statement accompanying the study.
She told The Guardian that it's possible firstborns get more parental attention and energy, a theory she places ahead of the idea that firstborns are simply smarter.