Nature vs. Nurture
Nature vs. Nurture

What It's Like to Be the Oldest Child, According to Science

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

What It's Like to Be the Oldest Child, According to Science

The oldest children in families often have shared experiences about what it's like being the oldest child. Very often, they may say things like "Well, our kid brother/sister got away with stuff mom/dad would never let me get away with." Very often, it is said in jest or treated as just unimportant complaining.

However, science may be on your side for this one. Many sociologists and child behaviorists are starting to realize that there might be more to this situation than at first appears. According to science, after studying behavior and experience patterns across generations of first borns, we can determine what it's like to be the oldest child.


Like with most scientific studies about behavior and trends, what follows will just be a discussion about grand trends. These are not facts, but simply observations.

Not all families are identical. Not all elder brothers and sisters experience the same things. This article is not establishing a rule that all oldest kids will experience such-and-such. But what follows is a broad trend across several families.

Curious to see what it's like to be the oldest child, according to science? If so, read on.

Constant Praising and Constant Discipline

Your younger siblings were onto something when they said mother likes you best. From their perspective, the oldest child is constantly being praised by their parents. According to social scientists, this is because parents are experiencing all the new quirks of parenthood for the first time, and, such, have more vocal responses to every new thing.

This works both ways.

Yes, parents are more likely to praise the oldest when they do something right, but the stresses of parenthood also lead to parents criticizing their kids more for doing anything wrong. By the time a second or third child comes around, parents are ready emotionally for the burdens of raising a kid, but for the first time? Less so.

This completely alters the way an oldest child develops.

Fear of Failure

Because of the high amount of praise and the high amount of criticism, older brothers and sisters tend to strive toward perfection so they may earn more praise and avoid criticism. This is a general trend among older siblings, according to science.

But how does this fear of failure manifest? It depends.

For some kids, striving for perfection becomes a defining objective. They may take on difficult tasks or leadership positions as a result. Some, even try to overachieve, working themselves to the bone in order to reach their perceived standards.

On the other hand, the fear may manifest as a fear of failure. Rather than try to overachieve, they would be so terrified of failing that their anxiety holds them back from doing anything. This can lead to anxiety, which keeps them from doing anything, which gives the impression of laziness, which results in them being criticized by their parents who do not understand, which only leads to more anxiety.

Of course, these traits can exists in any child who is put upon by their parents. This isn't just what it's like to be the oldest child, but, rather, any child criticized by your parents.

But this is far more common in the oldest child, according to science.

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Chelsea Pullano

Impressed by authenticity. Member of Diet Coke Anonymous. Extremely Type-A. Still discovering what Type-B means.

See all posts by Chelsea Pullano