By Annie Oeth / Gannett
If you're a first-born, you were probably president of your graduating class in high school, running a company today and taking over the world tomorrow.
Middle child? Can you say "Jan Brady?"
Youngest? We're still waiting for you to grow up, and you turn 40 next week.
There are plenty of stereotypes when it comes to birth order and who it makes you. Studies on the subject stack up like stairsteps, and opinions are as different on the subject as, well, all of us and our children.
Jackson State University psychology professor and interim department chair Pamela Banks says there are so many influences on how personalities are developed that singling out birth order might be off base.
"There's not a great deal of empirical evidence that birth order significantly affects personality," she said.
At least, not all by itself. Let's say there is a first-born child who is also detail-oriented. "Because these things happen together," she said, "we think it is the effect of birth order, but there are so many other factors."
Still, the studies persist.
In 2007, USA Today noted a study by Norwegian scientists that was published in the journal Science found that oldest children had, on average, a slightly higher IQ than their siblings. And a poll the same year by USA Today and the CEO organization Vistage found that, of respondents, 43 percent of Vistage members were first-borns, 23 percent were the youngest in the family and 33 percent were stuck in the middle.
Results can conflict, depending on who's questioned. A 2006 study, reported by USA Today, said that, instead of being a good example, older siblings can be a negative influence on their younger brothers and sisters, making them more likely to experiment in risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking or using marijuana.
However, those siblings also make you less likely to divorce, according to a study presented to the American Sociological Association this year.
"There are a lot of other factors that affect divorce that are more important than how many siblings you had. However, we're finding that the number of siblings is a factor," Ohio State University sociologist Doug Downey, a co-author of the study, said in a USA Today interview. "Each additional sibling reduces their chances of divorce a little bit."
The authors suggest that siblings further the development of social skills useful in navigating marriage.
And from another study from Ohio State University, this one circa 2010, only children are no less capable of developing good social skills than those raised with brothers and sisters.
"I don't think anyone has to be concerned that if you don't have siblings, you won't learn the social skills you need to get along with other students in high school," study co-author Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, an assistant professor of sociology on OSU's Marion campus, said in a news release from the American Sociological Association.
But the stories about birth order ... there are as many as there are families.
"I read there are two types of first borns," 33-year-old Spring Hill resident Natalie Hennes - the middle child in a family of three - said on a Facebook thread, "one who is the 'president type' and one who is the 'rebel type.' If a family has a rebel type born first, the second child then takes on the role of the leader/first born. That would be me. Type A, organized, good student, driven."
But, Hennes said, "I would like to add my younger brother fits the description perfectly. And, while my older sister was once the rebel type, she is now quite driven and successful."
Nashville's Steve Keith, the youngest of three, owned up to the stereotypical character traits - but not others - on his Facebook comment: "Yes, the baby who learned from the older siblings and found an easy way to cruise through, a path of least resistance so to speak, and not upset my parents. Rebel, no. That was the first born ..."
Indeed, no two siblings grow up in the same house goes an old saying, meaning that each child is parented a little differently. That's something that psychology professor Banks noted, too, as an influence on birth order-related personalities.
"It's probably more than likely that a first-born is parented by very conscientious parents that may be over-protective," she said. "That same set of parents can let up on the second child and subsequent children."
Your standards relax a little as you discover that children are pretty resilient, that dirt won't kill anyone and that saying "yes" to some things is as important as saying "no" to others. Also, parenting children does wear you down.
And, Banks said, children have their own temperaments. They are born with them.
"You might have an easy child, who doesn't ask for anything and just goes along with life," she said, "and that child is going to be parented differently than a child who is more needy and wants every need met by parents."
Unfortunately, babies don't come with instruction manuals. Each child is different, and there is no clear rhyme or reason to who turns out how. We, as parents, just get to wing it a day at a time.