Study finds second-born boys get in trouble more often
For many of us, “The Curse of the Second-Born Child” is given no more credence than the idea that “Monday’s child is full of grace,” or that “first-born children are more successful, Meredith, which is why you’re a freelance writer and your older sister is a critical care physician.” But a new study shows that second-born children really may be more likely to get in significant forms of trouble.
Joseph Doyle, an MIT economist, studied tens of thousands of children from Denmark and Florida to figure out if birth order had any effect on the likelihood of a person engaging in trouble in school, juvenile delinquency, or adult crime. He and his colleagues used data from the first two children in families with two or more kids (siblings had to have the same mother and father, and twins were excluded) and focused on families in which the second-born child was a boy (since teen boys get in trouble more often than teen girls).
The study found that second-born boys were 20-40% more likely to face discipline at school or in the court system than first-born boys. This tendency for the second-born to be the trouble-maker was far more pronounced among pairs of brothers than when a sister was involved. Researchers also noted that despite the differences between Denmark and Florida in “socio-demographic characteristics as well as the judicial systems, the estimated effects of being born second are remarkably similar across the two locations.”
So, what exactly is the difference, here? What could explain the difference between first-born boys and second-born boys, and how is it their parents’ fault because we’re sure that’s what’s coming next? According to the study, “We consider differences in parental attention as a potential contributing factor to the gaps in delinquency across the birth order.”
Ah, yes. There it is.
It all goes back to the idea that first-born children get all of their parents’ attention, while the second-born can go kick rocks. But the study brought up another possible factor that we found really interesting: in an interview with NPR, Doyle said, “The firstborn has role models, who are adults. And the second, later-born children have role models who are slightly irrational 2-year-olds, you know, their older siblings.”
He has a point — no one on earth should model their behavior after a two-year-old.
Because if I go to the grocery store and start screaming that they’re out of the purple box of fruit snacks and only have the green box of fruit snacks, I’m probably going to be talking to a police officer momentarily. (And I will yell “No!” when he tells me to put my hands behind my back and then hold my breath until I either pass out or he leaves me alone.)
Parents of two boys shouldn’t go giving their youngest the side-eye, however. As Shankar Vendatam of NPR notes, “This research, of course, is painting a broad picture. It doesn’t describe what’s happening in every single family.” He’s right — these are just interesting numbers from one study. Now go get your future felon a snack before he holds the kids in the sandbox at truck-point.