Probing Birth-Order Effects on Narrow Traits Using Specification-Curve Analysis

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The idea that birth-order position has a lasting impact on personality has been discussed for the past 100 years. Recent large-scale studies have indicated that birth-order effects on the Big Five personality traits are negligible. In the current study, we examined a variety of more narrow personality traits in a large representative sample ( n = 6,500-10,500 in between-family analyses; n = 900-1,200 in within-family analyses). We used specification-curve analysis to assess evidence for birth-order effects across a range of models implementing defensible yet arbitrary analytical decisions (e.g., whether to control for age effects or to exclude participants on the basis of sibling spacing). Although specification-curve analysis clearly confirmed the previously reported birth-order effect on intellect, we found no meaningful effects on life satisfaction, locus of control, interpersonal trust, reciprocity, risk taking, patience, impulsivity, or political orientation. The lack of meaningful birth-order effects on self-reports of personality was not limited to broad traits but also held for more narrowly defined characteristics.

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Type of resources: Primary Source, Reading, Paper

Education level(s): College / Upper Division (Undergraduates)

Primary user(s): Student

Subject area(s): Applied Science, Social Science

Language(s): English