Second Born Children More Likely to Be Troublemakers, Says Science

In news that will shock not a single first-born child ever, a new study indicates that second born children are more likely to be troublemakers.

MIT economist Joseph Doyle was one of the researchers behind a new study on second-born children, and he says their data supports the long-running stereotype that second-born children tend to be more rebellious and more likely to get into trouble.

Image: Giphy

Doyle’s research looked at tens of thousands of sets of brothers in Florida and Denmark. They only looked at boy siblings, on the grounds that boys are statistically more likely to get into trouble than girls. The data indicates that second-born boys are 25- to 40-percent more likely to get into serious trouble at school or with the law than their older brothers.

Why are second born children more likely to be troublemakers?

There are many possible reasons for this. First-born kids get their parents’ undivided attention as small children. Second-born kids never know a time when their parents are 100-percent focused on them. That means second-born kids are more likely to be able to act up and get away with it.

Also, first-born kids tend to have more adults as role models. The second-born kids see the same adults, but they also have an older child as a role model. If your older sister is three years older than you, you’re going to grow up with a three-year-old role model. Even the best three-year-olds are pretty bonkers. (Yesterday I told my three-year-old she wasn’t allowed to pull all the toilet paper off the rolls, and she tantrumed so hard she practically tore the house down.)

First-time parents are different than veteran parents.

Parenting habits also change with a second kid. With the first one, we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re on high alert at all times. When I was a kid, my mother thought every neighborhood was dangerous, every friend was on drugs, and every ice cream truck was a serial killer.

With the second kid, a lot of parents relax a little. If everything was fine with Kid #1, we can chill a bit. That’s true, but a crafty Kid #2 can run roughshod over a set of parents that got complacent when Kid #1 never blinked out of line.

I’m a first-born kid. Literally the worst trouble I ever got into as a teenager was when I was caught secretly watching M*A*S*H in my room at 10:30, when my bedtime was at 10. My parents lost their shit. It was the worst thing they had ever imagined. They practically sent me to Outward Bound.

My sister is three years younger than me, and, well, shit was gotten into.


Fear not, younger siblings.

The study doesn’t describe what’s happening in every family, of course. It’s a broad picture of general trends in birth order. It doesn’t predict exactly what will happen with any given set of siblings.

And Doyle is clear to specify that the study does not predict second-born kids will automatically be delinquents. Statistically speaking, very few kids ever get into serious trouble at all. It’s just that when the researchers looked at kids who did get in trouble, they found those kids were much more likely to be younger siblings.

Being a troublemaker in youth isn’t even necessarily a bad thing for one’s future. Kids who raise hell as children might be more likely to be risk-takers as adults than their more obedient siblings. Risk-taking, assertiveness, and creativity can give a parent gray hair with a teenager. But those qualities can pay off well in adulthood.

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(H/T Good Housekeeping, Image: iStockPhoto / GeorgeRudy)

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