What do Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, JK Rowling and Beyonce, have in common? Other than riding high in Forbes list of the world's most powerful women, they are also all first-born children in their families.
Now such anecdotal evidence of first-born high achievement has been borne out by research. A groundbreaking study, by Feifei Bu at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, appears to show that, if you are the eldest child and female, you are statistically more likely to be the most ambitious and well-qualified of all your family. Next in line for success come first-born boys – all 12 men to have walked on the Moon were either eldest or only children.
The study also found that parents could strive to have children more likely to become high achievers by leaving a gap of at least four years between each child; the wider the gap, the greater the chances of higher qualifications.
Leaving out families with only children or with just twins, the research looked at the impact of sibling structures on aspirations. Previous studies had revealed that the first-born are more likely to win higher qualifications, but the ISER research found that this could be partly explained by the fact that they are likely to be more ambitious than their younger brothers and sisters.
Even taking into account parents' levels of education and professional status, the study found that firstborn children were seven per cent more likely to aspire to stay on in education than younger siblings.
First-born girls were 13 per cent more ambitious than firstborn boys. The probability of attending further education for first-borns is 16 per cent higher than their younger siblings.