BIRTH ORDER and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Hello SE friends,

Recently I read a book that involved the troubled relationship between the oldest daughter in the family and the youngest. It was fascinating and got me wondering about the role of birth order in our characters. I did some research and discovered there are volumes on the topic and plenty of anecdotal materials. So, over the next few posts, I will share some of that information with you.

When we craft our characters, many of us include comments about their placement in the family. We attach traits we’ve experienced with siblings or others close to us. I will explore some of those traits in my posts over the next several months.

Full disclosure, birth order theory is somewhat controversial because, in and of itself, it is not a determinant of someone’s personality. Many other factors include genetics, physical environment, gender, culture, family trauma, and much more. Still, birth order offers writers a tool for developing their characters. For that reason, in the next posts, I will focus on the traits of the (1) first-born, (2) the middle-born, (3) the last-born, and (4) the only child.

I leave you with a curious detail. Per the research, if there’s an age difference of three or more years between siblings, the birth order restarts. Given this tidbit, each of my four children is an “only” child. Between my eldest and my next child, there are seven years. Then there are five years between the next, and three and a half years between the final two. No wonder I had my hands full, right?

Just for fun, consider these three sets of accomplished men and women:

  • Ernest Hemmingway and Princess Diana
  • Ellen DeGeneres and Eddie Murphy
  • Elon Musk and Eleanor Roosevelt

Which set do you imagine is first-born, middle-born, or last-born? I suspect you got them right. The answers are as follows: the two first-borns are Elon Musk and Eleanor Roosevelt. It’s a worthy exercise to think about why you chose them. The middle-borns are Ellen DeGeneres and Eddie Murphy. Did you guess them correctly? And of course, the last-borns are Ernest Hemmingway and Princess Diana.

If you are like me, you might be thinking about one or more of your characters. Where might he or she fit in birth order? And, why? We’ll discuss this and more over the next months. Till then, stay warm and have a wonderful day.

76 thoughts on “BIRTH ORDER and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

  1. Pingback: The Design of Genres by Traci Kenworth – Where Genres Collide Traci Kenworth YA Author

  2. I studied this as part of my pscyh degree and found it fascinating. I like the idea of incorporating this aspect into developing your character(s), but we should all be wary of show-don’t-tell, as in describing someone with those assumptions: “she was the typical oldest sibling.” If the eldest is the one always trying to maintain peace and avoid conflict, sure, that’s an eldest trait (on average), but I still want to know where it comes from in that particular individual. So, great tool, but we need to be careful not to rely on it to fill in blanks we still need to fill in. Thanks for a thoughtful post, Gwen. I look forward to more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent points, Stephen. Thank you. There are possibilities for character development in birth order theory, but we can’t forget to “show”. 😊

      Like

  3. Pingback: BIRTH ORDER and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT – Stay Healthy Weekly

    • So true, Robbie. I’m the eldest as well, which meant much was expected. There’s a reason we overachieve, and it wasn’t that we were naturally gifted. 😊

      Like

  4. Pingback: BIRTH ORDER and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT – MI way (Meristem Intelligence® way)

  5. This is a very interesting topic. I really never thought about the big curves that could take into account the birth order for a story. Beautiful, Gwen! Thanks for sharing and a nice week that arrives. I forgot the new year 😉 Here are my honest wishes for a blessed and successful new year for you and your! xx Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: BIRTH ORDER and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT – BENARD KHAMATI

    • Thank you, Sue. After three years, it restarts (according to researchers), but there will always be some of the order’s traits. Fascinating theory. I look forward to studying the research. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This topic was discussed many times in our family by my parents. I’m the youngest of four, and at least once a week, my mom would say to someone, “You know, we pay attention to make sure we don’t spoil our youngest.” They certainly didn’t do that, and I used to like to tease them about overcompensating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your story made me chuckle, Pete. LOL. So sweet. My youngest son didn’t get a chance to be spoiled because my other sons tended to torment him. But truthfully, every mom has a special place in their heart for the youngest because he or she is the last baby. Thank you for sharing your story. Loved it! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a very interesting and timely post, Gwen. I have two current works in progress. One, set in 1910, has three sisters. The story is told through the eyes of the youngest (15). She’s wild, hard to control, and gets tangled up with a group of suffragettes. The middle girl (17) is overly cautious and only wants to get married and be a housewife and mother. The oldest (21) is married and has an infant son. She used to run wild and carried big dreams in her head–until her father sought to settle her down by marrying her off. Each of these girls have different personalities. The birth order comes into play–but according to the parents, not the girls themselves. This story is really the first time I’ve taken a serious look into the dynamics of birth order within a family. I look forward to your future posts, Gwen.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, Gwen 🙂 I have used siblings in my stories, which is a stretch for me since I was an only child, with a temporary step brother. I do find it interesting with my own child and their birth order. They do have their own unique traits, but I like what you said they are only children to you. It is fun to read about it in stories and use that trait.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve read general theories about birth order and there does seem to be a discernible pattern – although there’s plenty of siblings that break the rule! I’m the first-born and shared some of the responsibility for looking after my brothers. It’s a fascinating topic and I’m really looking forward to hearing more about it. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Trish. The concept of birth order and personality types is fascinating to me. As the firstborn, my experience was quite different from my six sibs. It’s always interesting (and fun) with the seven of us share stories. 😊

      Like

  11. Ooh, this sounds fascinating, Gwen. I look forward to this series of posts. These types of studies and topics have always fascinated me. Though I am the youngest of four, going by the gap noted between ages, I would be an only child. I’m somewhat surprised that three year gap isn’t larger.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Like D. Wallace Peach, I guessed Ellen and Eddie to be the youngest in birth order. The youngest in our neighborhood were the jokesters. The middle kids were the ones who felt they never got enough attention. Hemingway was so troubled, I placed him there. I was the oldest in our family, and my sister was born exactly ten months after me. My youngest sister wasn’t born until I was twelve, but she was definitely the “baby” of the family. And Patty–even before Mary was born–thought of herself as the neglected, middle child. That always amused me since she was the “baby” for eleven years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Family dynamics are amazing, aren’t they? Thank you, Judi, for sharing some of yours and adding to the mix of information about character development. As you’ve said, the youngest among my siblings is a bit of a jokester. I could say the same about the youngest of my kids. He always has people laughing. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Fantastic post, Gwen. Birth order played a role in one of my books. The hero was born last and much later than his older brothers. As a result, he believed his parents never wanted him…he was a mistake. This is going to be a great series! Enjoy the weekend. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post, Gwen. I was just talking about this yesterday with my dad. And I didn’t know that birth order starts over if there’s a larger gap in years. How interesting. I guessed wrong on the list. As a first-born, I guessed that one right. But I thought the last-borns were the funny wild-childs. That seemed true of my family. I always thought of the middle child as the lost child – stuck between the over-achieving first-born and pampered cutie last-born who knows how to get attention. I can’t wait for your series. Should be fascinating and fun. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Diana. I’m the firstborn of a large family, so it’s no wonder I ended up in college administration, managing one student problem after another. I think my career surfaced when I was just one year old and helped my mom with my new baby sister and then the next five that followed. By the way, did you like dolls? I never played with them, because I had real babies to play with. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Liz. My upcoming novel includes sibling exchanges between the first and middle sibs. But my prior books do not mention or assume the birth order of the characters. Writing a family-focused book lent itself to adding birth order traits. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a fascinating topic, Gwen, and I look forward to the upcoming posts. Interesting about the birth order starting over. My husband is the youngest in his family. There are almost exactly 4.5 years between each sibling. However, the middle one definitely has middle child syndrome. My only sibling is twelve years older. He once remarked that in ways it was like we were both only children.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. A most fascinating topic, Gwen. This information is going to give us writers tools for deepening our characters by adding this one aspect. I am the last born child in my family, and there are three years between my sister and me. My other siblings were much older, so it was like Mom had two different families. I look forward to the different psychological elements in birth order. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. A interesting thought. Although I know the birth order of most of my characters, I had never given it much thought in character development.
    This is in spite of my mother’s comments. She was the third of five, and after my first was born said, “Don’t have an odd number of children. The middle one tends to be left out.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your mom sounds very insightful, and from what you’ve mentioned, she spoke from experience. In some families, there are long-standing hurts from birth order differences. Over the years, my sibs and I have had many conversations about this topic and many discoveries. Thank you for sharing. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I find this topic fascinating. In our family we have identical twins and a sibling 4 years younger. Although only 7 minutes separated my twin from me, she being the younger, she definitely exhibits middle child syndrome. The brother I always saw as youngest, but in looking back and having read this post, I can see how he was more of an only child. I look forward to seeing more on this. Thanks for sharing, Gwen. Hugs 💕🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hadn’t thought about twins, Harmony. But my mom was a twin, and I think she saw her identical as younger, just as you’ve mentioned. This is fascinating! I’ll have to check into this more. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  19. We often joke about birth order in my family, but I (the last born) didn’t realize years matter. So, by this definition, I’m an only child. That’s very interesting to me.

    I played with this concept a bit in one of my series. I’m looking forward to your posts to gauge how well I did. Thanks, Gwen.

    Liked by 3 people

    • As the firstborn, the baby was always my dolly. I wonder if that was true in your family as well, Staci. Birth order theory is fascinating and sometimes explains family dynamics that linger. Anyway, it’s interesting to explore. 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Pingback: BIRTH ORDER and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT | Legends of Windemere

  21. Very interesting. Being born to a large family, I’ve found there’s no particular order. The older ones want to support the younger ones, and the younger ones want to return the favour when they get older.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jaye. I can see where you might be confused, especially if you come from a small family. I’ve six younger siblings, and birth order affected many of the dynamics in the family. Whenever we meet, we talk about our childhood experiences. The same situation, experienced by the oldest, middle, and youngest, varies from one to the other. We see through different eyes. 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  22. As the oldest of five daughters, I can tell you it matters. The interesting thing to me is that I left Mexico permanently in 1969, and left behind four younger sisters – and the oldest of those four is now, for all essential purposes, the matriarch. I think she does a far better job than I would have.

    The male/female order is important, as well. I might have been worried that a younger brother might supplant me if one came along.

    One of my main characters is a female only child – a former physician; the other woman has an older brother and an older sister; and my male main character has two older sisters who have married and produced offspring already (satisfying the parents’ wishes for grandchildren).

    There are only so many combinations and orders especially if you restart when the gap is a certain number of years, which is why patterns seem to develop. You can peg a lot of character development on the little quirks and the parents’ expectations.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for sharing as you have, Alicia. I’m the oldest of seven, and my sibs and I are about one year apart. The responsibilities I had as eldest were quite different from my brothers and sisters, as were the expectations. Effectively, I was the second mom. When I’m with my brothers or sisters, our conversations will often return to our early years. As older adults now, we recognize how we were shaped by circumstance, and also by how we fit into the birth order. It’s fascinating. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was second mom, too! My mother was not happy with having put on a few pounds (with 8 pregnancies, it would have been amazing if she hadn’t), so ‘family’ photos have me in the center, with her youngest on my lap, and the other three sisters distributed. We had one taken every year – just the five of us.

        We have those pictures now because Mother always insisted on taking them. She loved having the whole family in one photo, too. I miss her.

        Liked by 1 person

We'd love to know what you think. Comment below.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s