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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
INGRAM, A. E. (2001). The Influence of Birth Order on Anxiety. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 3, 2022 .

The Influence of Birth Order on Anxiety
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
The purpose of this study was to see if there was a relationship between birth order and anxiety. Being born into a certian birth position may predispose a person into having higher anxiety levels. First-borns often are given the most responsibility and are often seen striving for perfection. I predicted that oldest children would more likely to be the most anxious than any other birth position. Students from a General Psychology class were asked to fill out a survey and indicate which birth position that they were born in. No significant result was found. Birth order did not influence a person`s anxiety level.

The influence of birth order on personality development has been studied for many years. Birth order theorists believe that the childrenís position in the family determines their personality characteristics. These personality characteristics influence a personís behavior outside of the home.The importance of birth order on a childís personality was first introduced by Alfred Alder (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1965). Adler suggested that the first-born child never recovers trauma of being dethroned and losing the attention of his or her parents when the second child is born. This leads to higher needs for recognition and achievement as well as dependency needs (Crockett, Gates, Hubbard, & Lineberger, 1988). First-born children are considered to be in the most favorable position in the family. First-borns are more likely to be responsible. Since they are older, they are given the responsibility to take care of the younger children, so it is not uncommon for them to assume a nurturing role. Often the oldest child is given tutoring responsibilities, teaching their younger siblings. One study suggests that this tutoring responsibility raises his or her intelligence level (Romeo, 1994). They usually possess positive self-esteem, confidence, and a strong self-image (Morales, 1994). First-borns often compare themselves with younger siblings, feeling older, bigger, and superior. According to Isaacson (1988), first-borns may experiment with different ways of getting attention. They often seek approval from superiors. First-borns hope to receive what he or she wants by pleasing others and if they do not get what they want they may give up asking. In seeking, admiration, the first-born may become an over-achiever. They may also spend a lot of time trying to achieve perfection.The middle child, according to Adler, is in a more advantageous position. He or she never has to give up parental attention and has the advantage of having the older sibling act as the peacemaker. This maximizes the chances for healthy development in the middle sibling (Crockett, Gates, Hubbard, & Lineberger, 1988). Middle children are known to be more relaxed and even-tempered. They can be independent, caring and thoughtful. They sometimes develop a sense of humor to gain attention. Since a lot of attention is given to the oldest and youngest children, middle children often feel excluded and overlooked. They think that they are noticed least and are often the first to leave the nest. Middle children are known to compete with the first-borns. They often feel as if they are in a race, struggling to catch up with their older sibling. They easily feel inadequate and struggle to overcome inadequacy. Like, first-borns, middle-borns strive for perfection, but do so in a different way. Middle-borns use perfection to overcome inadequacies. They try to get every detail right, but do not extend their need for perfection into every areas of life. Although perfectionism does not overcome inadequacy, it may however influence their thinking for life. Middle children may overcome their feelings by making other people feel less adequate and limiting their opportunity for performance (Issacson, 1988). The youngest child may become the boss of the family with expectations that others will take care of them and they may often face few demands (Cambell, Stewart, & White, 1995). They tend to be more sociable and friendly enabling them to be more popular and relate well to their peers (Morales, 1994). Last-borns are less demanding and less jealous. They are more tolerant and able to make powerful negotiations. Last-borns may appear unable to grow up. They may have trouble being serious and fail to take on responsibility. Last-borns may face more difficult obstacles in order to feel mature. Because they are the youngest, they may feel excluded and used (Isaacson, 1988). If they are pampered too much they may feel weak and develop feelings of inferiority. Only children often receive a considerable amount of attention. At home, they want to be in the spotlight, under the guidance and protection of older people or people in authority. They strive to find recognition for what they want and do not want. They can attract followers and take on leadership roles for their peers to the degree to which they identify with adults (Toman, 1976). Since there are no other children to identify with, only children identify with adults. They are known to look and act like adults more than other children act in similar age. The only child likes to be left alone. If to much attention is given to them, they may feel smothered. Because they are only children, they are often spoiled by those around them. Only children expect order and wants things to always remain in an orderly fashion. They tend to be self-centered focusing all attention on themselves. They may ignore thoughts, attitudes, and feelings of others (Crockett, Gates, Hubbard, & Lineberger, 1988). Because only children do not have siblings, they may be unfamiliar relating to others, so they are not used to competition like middle born children are. Only children may be selfish, lacking the opportunity to learn how to successfully share with others Birth Order does contribute a lot to personality development and through the years, researchers have examined whether birth order has influenced anxiety levels. Being born into a certain birth order may predispose a person into having higher levels of anxiety. Anxiety is described as an emotional state in which people feel uneasy, apprehensive, or fearful. People usually experience anxiety about events they cannot control or predict, or events that seem threatening or dangerous. Anxiety may also be a way to handle stressful situations. Trait anxiety is anxiety proneness and or frequency of the manifestation over a long period of time (May, 1977). Those experiences that have the most influence on raising the level of trait anxiety may date back to childhood and involves parent-child relations.Research suggests that when the second child is born, the first born may feel that his or her status is threatened and may react with anxiety and fear (Morales, 1994). In one study, first-borns and only children were similar in their desire to affiliate, but only children were found to be less anxious (Rosenburg & Sutton-Smith, 1970). First-borns are more likely to act in an anxious way when they are in a stressful situation. The purpose of this study is to see if there is a relationship between birth order and anxiety. I predict that first-borns are more likely to have higher anxiety levels than middle, youngest, and only children are.


There were 42 participants who participated in this study. Of all those who participated, 27 participants were female and 15 participants were males. The participants consisted of students from a General Psychology class from Missouri Western State College in Saint Joseph, Missouri. All participants received extra credit for participating in this study.

For this study, I used an anxiety scale by Rollo May (1977). The scale consisted of 20 items relating to anxiety(See Appendix).

The participants were asked to fill out a survey measuring anxiety. The participants rated how often they worried about each of the items. Each participant was instructed to indicate which birth position that they were born in. The options for birth order were first born, middle child, youngest child, and only child.

A one-way ANOVA was calculated comparing the means of the anxiety score with each of the birth positions. No significant difference was found (F(3,38)=1.597,P>.05). A personís birth position did not significantly influence his or her anxiety level.

I thought that there would be a significant relationship between birth order and anxiety. I predicted that the oldest children would be more anxious then middle, youngest, and only children. My results indicated that there was no relationship between birth order and anxiety. I thought that oldest children would have higher levels of anxiety due to the increased responsibility of being the oldest. They often strive for perfection. I thought that since they had the need to be perfect, they would be more anxious when they learn that the world is not perfect. One of the limitations of this study was that there were not enough participants. If I did this study again I would have used a lot more participants. Another limitation is that anxiety was rated using a three-point scale. Most people indicated that they sometimes were anxious amount the items provided on the scale. This might be why the mean anxiety scores were the same for each of the birth positions. Because of this, the anxiety scale that I used may not have accurately measured anxiety. If I did this project again I would use a seven-point scale. I do not think that this study would generalize to the general population because I did not find significant results.

Ansbacher, M L. & Ansbacher, R. (1956). The Individual psychology of alfred alder. New York: Basic Books.Cambell, L., Stewart, A., & White, J. (1995). Associations on the white-cambell psychological birth ordor inventory and the kern lifestlyle scale. Psychological Reports, 77, 1187-1196.Crockett, J., Gates, L. Hubbard, J. & Lineberger, M. R. (1988). Birth order and its relationship to depression, anxiety, and self-concept test score in children. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 149, 29-34.Isaacson, C. E. (1988). Understanding yourself through birth order. Iowa: Upper Des Moines Counseling Center.Morales, C. A. (1994). Birth order theory: A case for cooperative learning. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 21, 246-250.May, R. (1977). The meaning of anxiety. New York: W.W. Norton Romeo, F. (1994). A childís birth order: Educational implications. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 21, 155-161.Rosenberg, B. G., & Sutton-Smith, B. (1970). The sibling. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Toman, W. (1976). Family constellation: Its effects on personality and social behavior. New York: Springer.

Read each of the following statements. Indicate whether you worry or have anxiety about the following items.1=Often 2=Sometimes 3=Never______1. Going to the hospital. ______2. Not having good health.______3. Being lonely.______4. What my friends think of me.______5. Not being successful at work.______6. People picking fights with me.______7. Getting old too soon.______8. Not having enough money.______9. Not being popular enough_____10. Having the dentist pull a tooth._____11. Making a speech before a group._____12. Being in an accident._____13. Failing a test in school._____14. Robber breaking in the house._____15. Jumping or falling off a high cliff._____16. Someone ridiculing or making fun of me._____17. Being locked in a small closet._____18. Not being able to get a job._____19. Drowning._____20.Bad dreams and or nightmares._____Age _____GenderIndicate which birth position you were born in._____First Born_____Middle Child_____Youngest Child_____Only Child

Submitted 11/28/2001 10:12:45 PM
Last Edited 11/28/2001 10:53:58 PM
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