Does Birth Order Affect Intelligence?
Study Suggests That Eldest Children May Score Slightly Higher on IQ Tests Than Younger Siblings
WebMD News Archive
June 21, 2007 -- Birth order may modestly affect IQ scores, favoring
firstborn children, according to a new study.
The study, published in the journal Science, shows about a two-point
gap in average IQ scores among firstborn men and men with living older
The study included nearly 244,000 teenage men in Norway. The men, who were
18-19 years old, took an intelligence test as part of Norway's compulsory
military board examination.
The researchers included Petter Kristensen, MD, PhD, MSc, of Norway's
National Institute of Occupational Health.
They noted whether the young men had any older siblings, including brothers
or sisters who were stillborn or died in childhood.
Firstborn men had average IQ scores that were slightly higher than
second-born men with living siblings. The same was true of second-born men and
third-born men with living siblings.
But strict birth order wasn't the only important factor.
Birth Order Research
Men who had an elder sibling who had died had roughly the same IQ scores as
firstborn children, the study shows.
Biological birth order (which includes all children in a family, including
those who have died) and social birth order (which includes all living children
in a family) may be equally important with respect to children's IQ scores,
note Kristensen and colleagues.
The results held when the researchers considered other factors, including
the parents' education, mother's age when she gave birth, and babies' birth
However, an editorial published with the study points out that before age
12, younger children tend to outscore their older brothers and sisters on
"This is because the younger sibling, being linguistically and
cognitively less mature, degrades the firstborn's intellectual environment,
whereas the older sibling enriches the secondborn's environment," writes
editorialist Frank Sulloway, PhD, of the Institute of Personality and Social
Research at the University of California, Berkeley.
That pattern seems to reverse over time, perhaps because older children get
an intelligence boost from being their younger siblings' informal tutors in the
ways of the world, Sulloway notes.
Calling the Norwegian study "elegantly designed," Sulloway says the
greatest challenge is to find other large data sets to investigate other
possible explanations for the findings.
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