I’m just going to admit it right off the bat. I’m a first-born, so you might think I am biased in this topic. But that’s not the case — I already know that I’m not the smartest of my siblings. I also happen to think my own two children are equally intelligent in different ways. But I’m still curious and the conclusions that older siblings excel in comparison to their younger counterparts are largely undisputed. Still, no one really understands why first born children are the smartest. The Atlantic says most reasons are directly linked to the parents involvement, but these theories feel a little thin to me.
1) “The Divided-Attention Theory”: I am definitely guilty of this one. I love my second-born equally and want her to succeed in every way possible, but I definitely don’t focus on her the way I did with her older brother. Though my heart can grow in love, I can’t manufacture time. There are only so many hours in the day.
2) “The Bad-Genes Theory”: Despite “strong evidence of higher IQs among first children” and purported “diminished genetic endowment” as the mother ages, I refuse to buy into this stale eggs guilt trip.
3) “The I’ve-Had-It-With-Kids! Theory”: One of my girlfriends calls her second child “the closer.” She had an easy baby the first time around and the second one made her wave the white flag. I don’t know if that really explains performance at school, but it’s still a funny story. Researchers suggest “the poorer performance of later children isn’t genetic, so much as selection bias.” Parents can’t deal with the difficult child if the first born is easier.
4) “The No-One-to-Teach Theory”: I’m not a fan of this reverse logic, but my family definitely supports the idea that “building these teaching skills helps them build learning skills that makes them better in school.” I loved playing teacher/student with my younger brother. If practice teaching made me perform better in school, I’m still not sure why practicing as the student didn’t make him a better student.
5) “The Divorce Theory”: Research says “family crises like divorce are far more likely to…disrupt later kids’ upbringing.” My parents are still together and my husband is an only child so I have no personal relationship to this theory, but it seems highly suspect. Wouldn’t divorce affect all the children? Perhaps it’s really that the first-born usually steps up and acts in a parental role to maintain consistency across both homes.
6) “The Lazy-Parent Theory”: This theory suggests that “first-time parents, scared of messing up their new human” do whatever is in their power to make sure their child has every advantage in life. They enroll their six-month-old in sign language classes, make flashcards for their 18-month-old, and expect their four-year-old to read books. By the time the second or third child comes around, they don’t have the time, the resources or the interest in doing the same.
There is a great mistake in translating those who get the best grades in school with being the “smartest.” Even though I am a first born, I wouldn’t declare myself “smarter” than either of my brothers. More eloquent? Probably. More disciplined? Definitely. A better student? Absa-freakin-lutely. Those traits have to less to do with IQ than social factors that made me excel in the game that is school.