It's Not Your Imagination: 2nd Kids Really Are Harder, Says Science

brothers playing on couch

The idea that birth order has a huge influence on our personalities (and, perhaps more to the point, our children's personalities) is nothing new -- but one recent study is calling out second-born kids in particular for being natural troublemakers. Sound like your second kid? Then you'll be happy to know there's plenty of evidence proving you're far from alone!


A group of researchers led by MIT economist Joseph Doyle analyzed info from thousands of families in Florida and Denmark to compare siblings' chances of delinquency over a period of years. (The study focused on families with boys in the #2 child slot -- because boys statistically get into trouble more often than girls, apparently.) 

What they found was, well, kind of disturbing: In families with two or more children, the second-born is 25 to 40 percent more likely than their older brother or sister to end up in trouble at school, become part of the juvenile justice system, and even serve time in prison!

This may not come as a huge surprise if you grew up in a clan where the second-born was always up to no good, or if you're one of the many parents to have uttered the phrase: "I thought parenting was a breeze ... until my second came along!" But the fact that this happens, like, a lot, still doesn't explain why. Researchers do have a few theories, however.

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The first one, I must warn you, is bound to be an unpopular one. As with so many theories regarding what makes good kids go bad, it has to do with parental attention -- and the fact that second kids tend to get less than the first. Well, of course! It's literally impossible to give more than one child your undivided attention.

Or maybe, experts suggest, these findings have to do with the fact that first children learn most of their behavior from their parents (adults who know how to behave like civilized people), while second-born children learn a great deal of their behavior from their older siblings (kids who don't at all know how to behave like civilized people). Of course they're going to be a little rowdy. Still, it seems like a big leap from jumping up and down on the bed because your big brother is doing it to becoming a certified problem child or juvenile delinquent.

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Of course, as with all studies, it's important to remember that there are exceptions, and that every family is different. Either way, the biggest winners here are obviously firstborn children everywhere, who can hold this over their younger siblings' heads for the rest of their lives.

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