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Firstborns smart, but younger siblings work harder
August 16th, 2010
12:10 PM ET

Firstborns smart, but younger siblings work harder

Competition between siblings can be fierce - from bickering over who gets the last cookie to whom Mom and Dad likes the best.

That competitiveness translates into the academic world, too.

Research presented this month at the American Psychological Association found that firstborns score higher on aptitude tests, yet younger siblings obtain higher grade point averages.

The younger ones are harder working, the siblings agreed in questionnaires they filled about themselves and their siblings.

The 90 sibling pairs, who came from a diverse, suburban New York High school, answered questions about themselves and their brother or sister’s intelligence, work ethic and academic performance.

Researchers obtained the teenagers’ test scores and grade point averages, too.

One hypothesis why the elder sibling scored higher on aptitude tests is that all firstborns were only children for a while, perhaps receiving extra attention and help with schoolwork from their parents before their younger siblings were born.

Study author Tiffany Frank, a doctoral candidate at Adelphi University, pursued the research because of the dynamics in her family. Frank, the youngest of three, said, “I have an older sister who I just felt was smarter than me."

Yet, younger siblings had higher grade point averages.

The anecdotal evidence, provided by Frank and her fellow colleagues is that the later born children are more competitive, seek to outperform their older siblings by putting in extra effort to gain more attention from the parents.

But both firstborns and their younger siblings identified themselves as the more naturally gifted teenager compared with their family member.


soundoff (268 Responses)
  1. Sandra Chung

    90 pairs? And you think that's a fair and accurate sampling? As for the rest of the article, hogwash.

    August 16, 2010 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. No Bummer

    What does this study show for Muslims born in Kenya that trick their way into Federal Office?

    August 16, 2010 at 19:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mr. cool ice

      Uhh, it doesn't say anything about that topic. Did you or can you not read the article? Let it go already.

      August 16, 2010 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
  3. Rob A

    They should really do a study to find out how many studies people really want to read about before they really become sick of studies!

    Right after that someone should ask Comcast if they think people really want to click on their opening page and see a new Kim Kardashian video every frikkin day of the week..

    August 16, 2010 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Katie

    Ha-ha this is kinda Funny me and my husband talk about this all the time...
    (we are both the youngest)
    and in both of our families-
    our older syblings were very good in school got good grades and were your clasic over-achiever.
    Meanwhile My husband and I were both the slackers. Wo both got good grades but never really "applied" ourselves and just stayed in the normal classes and never bothered with the honors courses.
    I was a bit of the opposite- Teachers loved my Bro and Sis, but hated me. Not because I was a bad kid, I was actually pretty well behaved, I never talked back or anything like that. But they didn't like me because I didn't live up to the expectations of my family, and I didn't really care. Of course the fact that my teachers tried to expect more from me because of my "lineage" that made me push back even farther. To this day My Bro and Sis are still alot more book-smart then me- but in terms of street smarts and logics, I must say- I do take the cake on that one- (not that I am trying to be cocky about it or anything). It's just they had to work super hard to understand things and study day and night to keep the grades up and I didn't, I just seemed to naturally understand it.
    I think it's because when a parent has one kid, they of course have more time to teach it and spend with it- so the kid learns to rely on the parent for understanding and learning but by the time the youngest comes around, the parent it normally to busy to spend as much time with each kid individually so the youngest learns to figure things out on it's own ALOT earlier then the older kids.
    Neither one is a bad way to learn... My Bro and Sis will probably have more succsesful jobs then I will and make more money.
    but they will also have a hard time keeping up and handling that stress, where me, I am happy with where I am and will probably stay here for a while (to put myself through school)
    I do plan on becoming a teacher. Let me tell you- I do know of a few things from my own experiences that will help kids like me to do better and be more motivated...

    August 16, 2010 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. HkGurl153

    This article is alllll wrong. Of course are younger siblings will get better grade averages because what they are doing i easier. I'm doing chemistry and my brother is doing regular science so of course he's going to do better

    August 16, 2010 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Kay

    My family fits this description well. I'm the oldest and always had the highest standardized test scores, and school came pretty easy for me. Eventually though, my youngest sister was getting better grades, and beating my sports record, and you could tell she was just working harder.

    August 16, 2010 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. CA Native

    Didn't work that way in our family of 5.

    August 16, 2010 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. jason m.

    It's not about firstborn, secondborn, or thirdborn, that's simply a consequence of the real reason, which is the age of parents. The younger the parents, the healthier (both physically and intellectually) the baby will be. Even if it's your firstborn, if you wait until 35-40, your kid will most likely not have a high IQ. Early 20s is the best time to have a kid.

    August 16, 2010 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chynadoll131

      Are you a moron? Do you have studies to back that up? I'll challenge your assumption because most women who have babies that young are uneducated, largely single mothers. Older women have more education and therefore have more resources and time to help their baby develop properly. So please support your theory with credible evidence.

      Oh yeah, my mom was old when she had me. Guess I turned out pretty bad....I'll remember that when I earn my PhD here.

      August 17, 2010 at 02:42 | Report abuse |
  9. lisa

    it actually states that study show sibling order MAY affect intelligence; it never said it actually DOES affect birth order. pay attention people

    August 16, 2010 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Abe Normal

    This study is a lot of nonsense.

    August 16, 2010 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      CNN! Please! "Novelty" articles listed as research? Bump it up to the level that is regularly delivered by CNN.

      August 16, 2010 at 22:58 | Report abuse |
  11. Doc student

    90 kids from the same high school......plus calling it "anecdotal evidence"........seriously CNN- why bother?

    August 16, 2010 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. middlechild101

    Hummmmm? This article left out the middle child; just like real life.
    Very interesting indeed.

    August 16, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      Love it !!!!!!! But please understand, Middle, it was from a "diverse" high school. And big brother was threatened by you.

      August 16, 2010 at 22:40 | Report abuse |
  13. Ryan

    I don't see my younger sister working harder than me lol. I am the middle child though.

    August 16, 2010 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Karen Saucedo

    First siblings are often put on a pedestal and, therefore, have a high degree of confidence which can lead to better performance. However, that does not signify overall intelligence. An IQ test would give you a better idea of sheer brain power that an 'aptitude' test or a questionaire.

    August 16, 2010 at 21:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Trumod

    I'm a double middle (third of four kids, second of three daughters) and I know I'm smarter than any of my sibs. Competition? With my two sisters, it's a spectator sport.

    August 16, 2010 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. ruserious1983

    No wonder I have so many complexes!!?? Middle child WHO? LOL!

    August 16, 2010 at 21:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. SallysF

    This must have been discovered by a youngest child. It's been common knowledge for years.

    August 16, 2010 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. StatsProf

    Three issues to discuss. (1) Two factors that influence statistical significance are sample size (the bigger, more likely to find statistical significance) and effect size (again the bigger the more likely to find statistical significance). Effect size is the magnitude of the difference between your two groups. If one was trying to determine if NBA players were statistically taller than normal human beings, it wouldn't take a very big sample because the real difference in height between these groups is huge, likely two or three standard deviations. On the other hand if you were trying to figure out if NBA players were taller than Div I college players, you would need a much bigger sample because the magnitude in the difference in heights is smaller. Therefore, a sample of 90 could be suffiently large to find statistical significance for a moderate or large effect.

    (2) Perhaps more of a concern is the representativeness of the sample. Drawing from pairs of siblings from one high school in one region of one country puts the generalizability of the results into question. Replicating the results in other schools in different areas of the country would, obviously, lend support to the findings. But remember, research has to begin somewhere.

    (3) Some folks criticized the study for using self-report data. Used by itself, I agree, the self-report data wouldn't be that interesting. In this case, however, the researchers used more objective data like IQ tests (I assume) and GPAs. The self-report data merely supplemented the more objective data, which is good practice.

    August 16, 2010 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Chris

    My younger sisters got help with their homework from me. My parent was not able to tutor me, but LEARNED to learn. My sisters say they learned a lot from me.

    The only child? For 13 months? That makes a lot of difference. Actually, the middle child made lower grades because she didn't care so much about studying.

    This study is short-sighted.

    August 16, 2010 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. D

    Completely bogus. I am the 4th oldest in my family, an engineer, and the only one who even went to college in my family.

    August 16, 2010 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sparticus

    I have no pants

    August 16, 2010 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      That explains the head up the a$$.

      August 16, 2010 at 22:43 | Report abuse |
  22. Chris

    Maybe the oldest worked in the "coal mines" with their dads?

    August 16, 2010 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Brian

    This is old news. I have been reading studies like this for at least thirty years.

    August 16, 2010 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Bob

    90 pairs...one high school...New York... Nice work. Must have been a challenge. But I think the APA should distance themselves from Adelphia U.

    August 16, 2010 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Kevin

    Did the guy correct the score with age?
    It is well known at IQ correlate with age for kids
    also did he looked into sex difference in his sample?

    August 16, 2010 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Swamprattler

    my only question was this crap funded with my tax dollars?

    August 17, 2010 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Barbara

    I remember when my older sister told me that "firstborns get the best genes." She was serious and I was astonished!

    August 17, 2010 at 01:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Chynadoll131

    Or.....maybe the younger sibling paid the older one to do her homework? Or used her old tests because the teacher hadn't changed the exam in 10 years....hmmmmm...... :) Just saying!

    August 17, 2010 at 02:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Fluoride Harmful & Ineffective, studies show

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    August 17, 2010 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Angie

    I have a younger brother and he actually isn't a very hard worker. He slacks off a lot of the time and always felt like he was walking in my shadow. I'm not saying I'm proud of that. Just pointing out that this study doesn't apply to every sibling situation.

    August 17, 2010 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Joshua S.

    I find this article quite funny. I am, by all comparisons and by the words of my older sister, light-years beyond her in pure brainpower, and I hardly have to work to invent or create and make oodles of cash, yet I am a bit of a flake. She, while still intelligent herself, has worked the same type of job (veterinary assistant) since she was 14 years old (which is around 17 years). She never finished college, while I earn new degrees in varying fields every year or so.
    This article shows the exact opposite of our reality.
    Psychologists are, and will always be, in my books, grouped with dentists in my frame of where they fit as doctors of medicine. I've spoken to several. I play them as if they were fiddles I because I understand my mind better than they do, and I understand their minds better than they do as well.

    August 17, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joshua S.

      I do have to say that she loves her job, and she is very happy working with animals. I too, am happy with what I do for a living, which is be smart. So everything is on the up and up.

      August 17, 2010 at 11:28 | Report abuse |
    • The_Mick

      Is there room for your sister on your ego trip?

      August 17, 2010 at 11:47 | Report abuse |
  32. George

    My older brother is dumb dumb dumb, dumb as toast, and I'm a genius.

    August 17, 2010 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. lewis

    I am entertained by the response of this article...you have opened a can of worms..but seriously made my day...Hehehehe

    August 17, 2010 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Sir Francis Blake

    I guess I must be an exception. I am the youngest but very bone idle lazy and as dumb as a fence post as well. When god was passing out the brains to everyone I was in charge of holding the door.

    August 24, 2010 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bobby Mac

      You are a very harsh self critic Sir Francis. Surely you must have some redeeming qualities.

      August 24, 2010 at 10:32 | Report abuse |
    • dfs

      me too feels the same way....

      September 19, 2010 at 01:08 | Report abuse |
  35. jumanji not my name though

    wow i dont get it

    August 24, 2010 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 17, 2010 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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  38. Ameila Earnhart :)

    seriously?!!!!! this is sooo fake! i am the oldest and my only brother is the youngest. He does not work on his school work very hard and has just slipped by for the last couple of years. Even though he has the advantage of seeing all of my schoool work and getting it explained to him every time by my parents! He is a little bit of a copier too. I will read a couple series in a book and then next thing i know it he is reading them too. it is hard becaus i dot feel like im smart enough too read a book that he cant sometimes! He really needs to find his own way. I will have to figure everything out on my own but he willl have me to come too for certain things. Sometimes i wish i was an only child but i know that i would get too bored most of the time. :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) !!!!!!!!

    February 21, 2011 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Loew T

    I completely agree with all of this coming from a younger sibling pov.

    February 10, 2012 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
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