Do Second-Born Boys Get In Trouble More Often?

Do Second-Born Boys Get In Trouble More Often?

July 12, 2017 Updated January 7, 2020

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NOTE: The headline above previously read, “2nd Kids Are A Pain In The Ass, Study Confirms,” which was meant to be funny. 

DISCLAIMER: Please note that we are not a scientific publication. Consult the research cited below for further information about its methodology and findings.

For many of us, “The Curse of the Second-Born Child”  is given no more credence than the assertion that “Monday’s child is full of grace,” or that “first-born children are more successful.” But according to one study, second-born children may be more likely to get into trouble.

Joseph Doyle, an MIT economist, studied 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 research results were interpreted by Doyle to conclude that second-born boys from the study were more likely to face discipline at school or in the court system than first-born boys. According to Doyle, the tendency for the second-born subjects to be trouble-makers was more pronounced among pairs of brothers than when a sister was involved. The research also maintains that despite differences between Denmark and Florida in “socio-demographics as well as judicial systems, the effects of being born second are remarkably similar across the two locations.”

So what, if anything, could explain this supposed 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? From 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 this presumed norm (or maybe myth?) that first-born children get all of their parents’ attention, while the second-born can go kick rocks. The researchers also speculate about another possible factor: 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.”

Of course, no one 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.

Parents of two boys may rightly take issue with the study, both on its face and based on their own experience. As Shankar Vendatam from NPR states, “This research, of course, is painting a broad picture. It doesn’t describe what’s happening in every single family.” He’s right — this is just one study, and must be viewed in context and critically.