Did you know that the majority of Ivy League students in Harvard and other prestigious schools are firstborns or only children? How about the fact that all 12 men to have walked on the moon were either eldest or only children?
Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, JK Rowling, and Beyoncé are also all firstborn children in their families. If you are betting on which child will be a high achiever and most successful at school, you should probably place your bets on the eldest.
According to a recent study carried out at The University of Essex, eldest children are high achievers and more likely to outdo their younger siblings. While it’s dangerous to make generalizations and there are always exceptions, older siblings generally have more intelligence and success.
Here are 15 reasons why the eldest children are such high achievers.
1. They are down-to-earth and honest.
There is not much room to cut corners for firstborns. That’s because they are expected to be role models and pacesetters for their younger brothers and sisters. The eldest child finds that they have to be more truthful, caring, and honest to prove a point to their parents (even in adulthood).
2. They are ambitious and self-driven.
As pacesetters and role models, the eldest children are programmed for excellence and achievement from a young age. They are ambitious because they have to “lead the way.” This is a powerful variable that plays an important role in a person’s drive for success, and it shows in the eldest child throughout their life.
3. They are hardy and better able to handle stress.
That’s because they’ve had to learn how to adapt and handle pressure in the family from the time they were young. The eldest child is a mini-parent in most families, especially in large ones. They are exposed to many of the challenges their parents have in raising the kids. As the younger siblings grow up, the firstborn doesn’t always get their way, equating to greater stress and a greater need to adapt even more. This process is tough, but it also helps firstborns develop thick skin — a necessary ingredient for success.
4. They are dependable and take the lead.
As mini-parents, the eldest child feels the pressure to take the lead and care for the family, especially their younger siblings. Richard Branson (founder of Virgin Group), who has two younger sisters, thinks this responsibility placed on the eldest child is significant. “Firstborns are usually given the responsibility of looking after younger siblings,” he told the Financial Times, “and this can help ingrain leadership skills at a young age.
5. They are resourceful and work harder.
That’s because they are expected to take on leadership and caregiving roles in the family. As a result, the eldest child finds that he has to work harder, be more hands-on, and be more resourceful. This resourcefulness gives firstborn children a marked edge for success throughout their life.
6. They are disciplined and consistent in manners.
Parents discipline the eldest child more strictly and often become more lenient as they have more kids, in what has been referred to as the “lazy-parent theory.” No wonder the first child always feels that younger siblings have it easier. A parent’s reputation for maintaining strict discipline with the eldest child makes the child maintain more consistent standards of discipline throughout their life.
7. They are always figuring things out on their own.
Who would blame them, really? Unlike later siblings, who have someone to pioneer and instruct them on which path to take, the eldest children have no one to teach them. They have to explore, risk, and learn most of what they know on their own. That’s not easy; however, it instills them with valuable life skills.
8. They always share the knowledge they acquire.
Firstborns feel it is their duty to diligently teach and instruct their younger siblings. In teaching the younger ones, the eldest child grows smarter in the process. This tendency to search for knowledge and teach others continues into adulthood and gives firstborns an edge. After all, knowledge is power.
9. They are intelligent and scholarly.
Albert Einstein was also a firstborn child. It looks like his intelligence wasn’t a coincidence. Numerous studies have found that firstborns are generally more intelligent and score higher on IQ tests. History even shows that firstborns are more likely to become president. Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were all firstborns. Some people have suggested that it’s genetic, in the sense that later kids receive diminished “genetic endowment.” Whatever the reason, the eldest child tends to have a healthier brain and exhibits higher cognitive abilities.
10. They stay in education longer and are better qualified.
Feifei Bu, the PhD candidate (at the time) who led the University of Essex study, analyzed data from more than 3,500 brothers and sisters. She concludes: “My research revealed firstborn children have higher educational aspirations and this translates into higher educational attainment.” What surprised Bu the most is that the birth order effect was much stronger than the impact of gender, in terms of attainment. Even taking into account the education and professional status of their parents, the study found firstborns were 7% more likely to aspire to stay in the educational system longer than their younger siblings.
11. They get a greater share of their parents’ money to pursue their interests.
Families initially spend more money on the first child, especially when considering multiple kids. That’s because firstborns hit an early start in costly private schools, extracurricular activities, tutoring, and all the other things that increase the chances of success. This happens with no competition appearing until later when siblings emerge. When siblings are born, the eldest child may lose their privileged run. Of course, the number of years between children is an important variable in this situation.
12. They are less likely to do drugs.
13. They are less likely to have their formative years disrupted by divorce.
Divorce is common in today’s society, but it is more likely to happen after the first child is past their formative years. The first child arrives into a stable family where the parents are still blossoming in love. Later children may not be so lucky. They are more likely to be disrupted by a family crisis.
14. They enjoy their parents’ first and purest love.
Parents tend to love and devote more time and care to their eldest child because it’s their first child. The eldest children are the delicate babies carried around and breastfed most of the time. Not to mention they are the ones who are constantly watched over to make sure they are breathing in their crib. The first child is the only one that ever truly has their parents completely to themselves, while all other children have to share. This has a positive impact on the firstborn’s self-worth and self esteem throughout their life.
15. They get the most mature treatment.
Parents pay a different kind of attention to the eldest child, giving them the most mature treatment. The theory is that if you treat a child like an adult, they will respond the same way. That explains why, even in adulthood, firstborns come across as more mature and accomplished. V. Joseph Hotz, a research associate of the Duke Population Research Institute observes that, “Reputations matter for politicians, teachers, and even used car salesmen.” Being perceived as mature, responsible, and reputable is a critical factor for high achievement and success in life.