First-born children are smarter than their siblings, reveals research
First born children perform better at school because they receive more intense attention from their parents, new research reveals.
Data from thousands of families over more than a decade found that parents spent the most time developing the thinking skills of their eldest son or daughter, but then became more relaxed with subsequent children.
They tended to take part in fewer activities with their young children, such as reading with them, doing crafts and playing musical instruments.
Analysis of IQ tests shows the extra focus gives first born children an edge over their younger siblings, which manifest itself as early as the age of one.
Researchers say the findings could help to explain a phenomenon called the “birth order effect”, whereby children born earlier in a family have a greater chance of enjoying better wages and greater education in later life.
All children within a family tended to receive the same level of emotional support.
But the reduction in providing intellectual stimulation was reflected in other parental traits such as a more lax attitude to smoking and drinking during pregnancy, the study found.
Dr Ana Nuevo-Chiquero, from Edinburgh University, which led the study, said: “As the household gets bigger time has to be split with younger children so they miss out on the advantage of being an only child for a time.
“It doesn’t mean first-borns get more love, that stays the same.
“But they get more attention, especially in those important formative years.”
#Nearly 5,000 children were assessed every two years from before their birth to the age of 14, when they were given various tests such as picture and vocabulary assessments.
Researchers also observed the behaviour of their parents, in particular the amount of mental stimulation and emotional support they gave.
The findings showed that advantages enjoyed by first born siblings start very early in life and that the differences increased slightly with age.
Dr Nuevo-Chiquero said numerous studies have found large differences in the education and labour market outcomes of adults by their birth order.
This, however, was the first to compare first-borns with younger siblings from the womb through childhood.
"For most, it is probably not difficult to understand how and why one's parenting focus and abilities may change with his or her latter children,” she said.
"These broad shifts in parental behaviour appear to set their latter-born children on a lower path for cognitive development and academic achievement with lasting impact on adult outcomes."