Evolution and Human Behavior, 24

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Rohde, P.A, Atzwanger, K., Bitocskaya, M., Lampert, A., Mysterus, I., Sanchez-Andres, A., & Sulloway, F.J. (2003). Perceived Parental Favoritism, Closeness to Kin, and the Rebel of the Family: The Effects of Birth Order and Sex. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 261-276.

Summary By: Domenico DeCaro, Natasha Grabowski, and Natalia Gonzalez
This article by Rohde et al. begins by discussing the suggested notion that birth order differences often show differences in parental care between offspring and thus leads to sibling competition and or rivalry. The authors of this study were interested in measuring relationship quality within families that had multiple children. They made sure to asses relationship quality through a couple of distinct variables: parental favoritism, rejection of parental authority by becoming a rebel, closeness to family members and how likely the child was to seek emotional support after distress. The three determinants that were take into consideration with this study on birth order differences, were: the child’s reproductive value, the child’s vulnerability and neediness and finally, their chances of future reproductive value.

The researchers, who conducted this study, were prompted to do so, by the lack of studies that attempted to analyze the relationship between birth order and personality development, within the family. Prior to conducting the research, the predictions of this study were as follows: for sibling relationships consisting of two members, the firstborn child will feel closest to a parent, for sibling relationships of three or more, middle-born child will feel the least close to the parents, middle-born children should also be the least favored by parents and thus most likely to rebel in sibling relationships of three. Rhode et al. also predicted that the strength of the above mentioned effects would be moderated by both the mother’s age and reproductive value and that although the mother should be the favored parent in all parent relationships, middle siblings will often feel closer to another sibling or to the father.

This study consisted of a multinational convenience sample of university students, so the participants, were not actually children, but were simply asked to reflect through a questionnaire how they felt about their relationships with their siblings and parents. For the sake of having participants be closer to the age of actually living in a household with a family, participants over thirty were excluded from the study. This was also in order to match the ages of the participants with an earlier Canadian study. One other interesting and important fact about the method of this study was that in order to be considered or analyzed as a participant, the student needed to have had an intact family environment while growing up. The researchers also used multiple regression in order to test for influences of the different control variables on the birth order and sex of the participant, which were both respectively, independent variables. It also served to distinguish effects in the different birth orders of the patients, through different contrasts.

Upon analyzing the results, the researchers considered a couple of different independent and dependent variables the first two being birth order and perceived parental favoritism, the second being birth order, closeness to kin and non kin and finally rebelliousness and closeness to parents. With regards to the first relationship birth order and perceived parental favoritism, sibling relationships of two included 53% of the first born children claiming their younger sibling was favored by the parents and 53% of the last born children named themselves as being the favored child. Researchers found this to be significant because both the first borns and last borns agreed on this notion that the later born children tended to be more favored by the parents. Upon analysis of sibling relationships of three, it was found that 35% of first borns, 32% of middle-borns and 49% of last-borns identified themselves as the favored child which was not consistent with the predictions made about middle siblings. When analyzing the variables of birth order and closeness to kin as well as non kin the results were that in sibling relationships of two 53% of the first-borns named a parent as the closest person to them, whereas 45% of the last borns named a parent as the closest person to them. In sibling relationships of three or more 52% of first-borns, 43% of middle borns, and 47% of last borns named a parent as being the closest person to them. What is significant with these findings is the fact that middle borns on average did consider themselves less close to their parents than both the oldest and youngest siblings. When analyzing rebelliousness and closeness to parents, researchers discovered that in sibling relationships of two, 46% of those who said they were the rebel chose a parent as the closest person to them, as opposed to 60% of the self-designated non-rebels. What is significant about this finding is the fact that it helps confirm the prediction that being a rebel in the family is related to a lower level of family closeness.

In the discussion section of the article, the authors discuss how the emotional bonds children have with their families are significantly correlated with rebellion and personality differences, suggesting that perhaps these personality traits are more than simple sibling stereotypes. It is also mentioned that the results of the study are in fact similar to previous studies that have been run in this area of research, due to the mothers, in general being more responsive to the last born children as opposed to the first born children. Also in the discussion section of the article the notion of the quality of the prenatal environment and the quality of family relationships is brought up, but also explained as being something that currently has no evidence to support it.

  1. Abstract

  1. Birth order study including a questionnaire

  1. Youngest child tends to be most rebellious

  2. Youngest Child tends to be most favored.

  1. Analysis of how close each child in the sibling relationship is to the parents

    1. Oldest child tends to be closest to parents.

    2. Youngest child tends to be least close

  1. Introduction and previous research

  1. Birth Order studies prior to this one, ruled out birth order with regards to actual personality development.

  1. this study attempts to further investigate, and not discount that relationship.

  1. Parent driven and sibling driven reasons for niche differentiation

  1. is it the parents’ actions or the siblings and or children’s actions that lead to differing personality traits and feelings towards parents?

  1. Assessing the relationship quality among different members of the family is valued.

  2. Predictions

    1. For sibships of two, firstborns will feel closest to a parent.

    2. For siblings of three or more, middle-borns will feel least close to parents.

    3. Although the mother should be the favored parent of all children, middle-borns will usually feel closer to the father or to a sibling.

    4. In regards to parental favoritism, middle-borns should be least favored.

    5. In sibships of three, middle-borns should be the most like to rebel.

  1. Methods of Research

1.Multinational convenience sample of university students

a. Of mostly European descent

2.Questionnaire - open ended answers, then arranged to a fixed option format

3.Only participants born in the respective country are included

a. Participants older than 30 were excluded

b. intact family environment when growing up was required

4. All hypotheses were calculated using multiple regression

D. Results from the Study

1.In sibships of two, 53% of the first-borns claimed their younger sibling was favored & 53% of the last-borns named themselves.

a. First-borns & last-borns did not disagree that later-borns tend to be favored.

b. In sibships of three, 35% of first-borns, 32% of middle-borns, & 49% of last-borns identified themselves as the favored child, disconfirming predictions.

2. In sibships of two, 53% of the first-borns named a parent as the closest person to them, compared to 45% of last-borns.

3. Rebelliousness & Closeness to Parents

a. In sibships of two, 46% of those who called themselves the rebel chose a parent as the closest person vs. 60% of those self-designated non-rebels.

b. This confirms the prediction that being the rebel of the family is connected with a lower level of family closeness.

E. Discussion of Findings

1. Findings are important because they show that self-reports regarding the status of rebellion are not only sibling stereotypes or personality differences, but instead are significantly correlated with the emotional bonds within the family.

2.Findings are consistent with the idea that mothers with a low level of reproductive potential attempt to increase their maternal investment with the last-borns, increasing to the difference between middle-borns & non middle-borns.

3.We have no evidence at the moment to link the quality of family relationships with the quality of prenatal environment. The influences seem to act independent of one another.

4. Limitations

a. Sample should consist of more than just college students.

b. Study should assess the relationship between the birth order and other characteristics.

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