Interconnection Of Birth Order And Self-esteem

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Chapter 1: Introduction

Self-esteem is defined as confidence in one’s own value or capabilities. It is also used to describe how much a person likes and appreciates himself. According to Rosenberg (1965), self-esteem is defined as the evaluation an individual has for himself. In his view, ‘self-esteem is a positive or negative attitude toward a particular object, namely, the self’. Birth order refers to the order of a child born in a family. Birth order is claimed to give crucial clues about personality, which in this case, self-esteem (Gates, Lineberger, Crockett, & Hubbard, 2001).

Several studies have been done to identify the relationship between birth order and self-esteem. In Adler’s view, character manners and attitudes of character mainly derive from developmental concerns, including birth order (Topness, 2014). Specific role and social identities and personal characteristic are important according to DeLamater (2018). Gates et al. (2001) claimed that the self-esteem of the first-born child was much higher than that of the second-born and youngest children. Falbo (1981) suggested that birth order affects youth and young adults’ self-esteem. In his study, he showed that first-borns tend to have greater self-esteem compared to the other children.

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The purpose of this research is to demonstrate Adler’s Birth Order Theory in college students. The hypothesis of this research is the first born of a family will have a higher level of self-esteem than the second and the last-born member of a family. The second-born will has the lowest level of self-esteem while the last-born member will be in the middle. The study is important to raise awareness of parents to help in balancing the level of self-esteem in children by presenting the result of the study to the public.

The thesis statement is birth order mainly contributes to building one’s self-esteem because of its relationships within the family that affect the development of one’s personality.

Research Question:

  1. How does birth order influences self-esteem?
  2. Which category of birth order has the highest level of self-esteem?

Chapter 2: Literature Review

The two articles that are selected to be reviewed are titled as The Effects of Birth Order and Family Size on Self-Concept (Nystul, 1976) and Birth order and Its Relationship to Depression, Anxiety, and Self-Concept Test Scores in Children (Gates, Lineberger, Crockett, & Hubbard, 1986).

Nystul (1976) conducted his study on the basis of a reevaluation of the data in his previous study (1974) when family size was not identified as an independent variable. He believed in Sear’s theory (1970) which stated that family size is related to parental attention and affecting the conditions facilitating self-concept development in children. According to Sear (1970), firstborns occupy a privileged position in the family, they can enjoy a period of time that they do not need to compete for parental attention. As the result, firstborns tend to have more positive self-concepts. Sear (1970) also observed that the larger the family, the less the parents can promote condition to develop self-concept in the children. Therefore, family size was brought in as an independent variable in Nystul’s study. The purpose of his study is to determine the effect of the interaction between birth order and family size on the self-esteem or self-concept. The material used in Nystul’s study is the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (Fitts, 1965). It consists of 100 items which summarize an individual’s self-worth and provide an overall assessment of self-esteem. Moreover, Tennessee Self-concept Scale (TSCS) measures self-concept from external and internal aspects and can therefore thoroughly determine an individual’s self-concept. Two hundred and seventeen university students, aged between 18 and 25, who were selected from students in courses of Departments of Psychology, were given the TSCS. Out of this sample, 37 subjects were deleted due to false positive TSCS scores, the remaining 180 subjects made up as the sample for Nystul’s study. The average age of the subjects was controlled at twenty-one years old to ensure the accuracy of the TSCS result. All subjects were from families that had 2 or more children including the subject himself. Evidence suggested that blacks will score significantly higher in Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS) than whites. Therefore, Nystul (1976) had excluded subjects who did not consider themselves as Caucasian. The result showed no significant differences between the mean scores obtained by first-born and later-born children in the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS). Furthermore, it showed that there was no significant interaction effect between birth order and family size. The absence of birth order effects on self-concept contradicted Sear (1970) who claimed that birth order affects the individual’s self-concept.

Gates et al. (1986) conducted a study to find out the relationship between birth order and personality. The personalities he studied were depression, anxiety, and self-concept. Gates et al. (1986) used the Birth Order Theory by Alfred Adler (1964) in his study. Adler’s Birth Order Theory maintains that birth order of a child in the family can greatly influence his commitment and self-esteem in the individual’s lifespan (Nhandi, 2017). First-borns receive maximum parental attention and undivided love from their parents compared to low social interaction received by middle-born and later-born children in their families. Due to the high parental attention, most of the firstborns tend to be more confident and competent, which encourages their growth in self-esteem. The subjects were administered the Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale, Children’s Depression Inventory and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children. The Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale is a 60-item questionnaire designed to assess the level of self-esteem in children (Piers & Harris, 1969). The scale measures self-concept from several items: physical appearance, behaviour, intellectual ability, anxiety, happiness, and popularity. All items in Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale were read to each child to accommodate the younger children in the study and control for reading ability. The Children’s Depression Inventory is a widely used assessment to measure the emotional, perceptual and symptoms of depression (DiMaria, 2018). The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children is a 20-item scale created to measure state and trait anxiety (Spielberger, Edwards, Montuori, & Lushene, 1970). A sample of four hundred and four children was ranging in ages between 7 to 12 years was selected. They were selected from 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade. Gates et al. (1986) recruited children from different background: private or public school, to generalize primary school sample to a broader population. Out of 404 children, 158 children were first born, 118 children were second born, 50 were third born, 17 were fourth born, and 18 were fifth born or later born. There were 46 only children and 185 youngest children in their family. The result of Gates et al.’s (1986) study showed that first-born children are healthier in mental. They showed higher self-concept, less depression and state anxiety than second-born and youngest children. As Gates et al. (1986) have observed, second-born and youngest children, as groups, obtained the least desirable scores for self-concept. The findings were contradicted to the Adlerian notion (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956) that a second-born child is superior to the first-born child and consistent with Sletto (1934), who suggested poorer adaptive behaviour in later-born children.

The large sample size is one of the strengths of Nystul’s (1976) research. A total number of two hundred and seventeen students were involved in the study. The larger the sample size, the more precise the mean, therefore, the results are more accurate. Another strength of the research is that the researcher considered family size as one of the factors that affect one’s self-concept. The researcher also utilized the recommendations of Toman (1969) in determining the number of siblings in the family. Toman’s (1969) observations indicated that when a child is 6 or more years apart from the rest of his siblings in the family, he will more likely to be a quasi-only child. The present study did not include any ‘only’ children as defined by Toman (1969).

The strength of Gates et al.’s (1986) study is the classification of subjects. Gates et al. (1986) classified the subjects according to their ordinal position in the family. This classification scheme able to evaluate the personality of each birth order. Data about first-, second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-born children, as well as the only children, were provided in his study. The data collected can be useful in theory building and for counselling purpose.

The weakness of Nystul’s (1976) study was the classification of subjects’ ordinal position. All subjects who were not the first-born were classified as the later-born. Only, middle-born and last-born children were not classified as the independent birth order in the study, therefore, the unique personality characteristics as described by Adler (1927) were not evaluated. Furthermore, Nystul (1976) did not place socioeconomic status as a controlled variable. Socioeconomic status is defined as the social status of an individual and it is determined as a combination of education, income and occupation. Without controlling the socioeconomic status of the subjects, the investigators were unable to determine the precise familial influences that contribute to the development of self-esteem.

Another weakness of Nystul’s study was the material used to test the individual’s self-concept. Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS) consists of 100 items. An individual must spend about 10 – 20 minutes in order to complete the test. Moreover, it is suggested that the instructor should inquire about the reasons behind some of the response made by the participants. The whole process is time-consuming and requires coordination from both instructor and participant. It will affect the patience of participants when answering the questionnaire and indirectly affect the accuracy of the results.

One weakness presented in Gates et al.’s (1986) study is that the number of participants in each group was inconsistent. 185 of the participants were the youngest child and 46 of them were the only child in the family. There is a huge contrast in comparison of the number of children in the youngest-child group and the only child group. Hence, the calculation for the scores will be less accurate because the mean number will be skewed by outliers.

After reviewing the articles written by Nystul (1976) and Gates et al. (1986), the present study will be using a questionnaire that required less amount of time to complete. This is to accommodate students who are usually busy with their studies. Moreover, the number of subjects in this study will range above 100 students so that more data will be collected for calculations. The present study will also follow the classification of the subject’s ordinal position in the family as shown by Gates et al. (1986). The subjects will be classified into their respective birth order as a group. In this way, the unique personality of each birth order can be evaluated. The differences in the number of subjects among the birth order groups will be minimized to ensure the accuracy of data. Another element that will be chosen for the present study is the application of Adler’s Birth Order Theory. Adler’s Theory is a popular theory in studying the personality including the development of self-esteem in each birth order category. Hence, the present study will apply this theory in determining the categories of birth order.

In conclusion, Nystul (1976) and Gates et al. (1986) have done detailed research on the effect of birth order on self-esteem. According to Nystul (1976), birth order has no significant influence on an individual’s self-esteem. However, in Gates et al.’s (1986) study, first-born children showed a significantly higher level of self-esteem than later-born children. The drastic difference in their results showed that birth order has still remained as a complex variable. More research is required to gain a better understanding of the influence of birth order. The present study will overcome the limitations faced in the studies by Nystul (1976) and Gates et al. (1986) to test the validity of Adler’s Birth Order Theory.

Chapter 3: Methodology

A quantitative survey form was used as the method of the present study. A survey was chosen as the method for this study because it allows broader study, involving a greater number of subjects, and enhancing the generalisation of the results. The survey form was created based on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965). It is the most widely used instrument to measure a person’s self-esteem level. Pullmann (2000) pointed out that RSES is easy to understand and consists of 10 items only, which allows the scale to be administered in a short time.

The sample that participating in this study comprised one hundred and seventy-nine college students recruited randomly at Sunway College and Sunway University. Sunway College and Sunway University students are built up of people from different family backgrounds, therefore, the results of the study can be applied generally for most people.

A Google survey form was distributed to the participants and they were asked to fill in the form. By using Google form, researchers can distribute and collect survey form conveniently. Participants provided demographic information about their age, education level, and birth order. The survey form included 10 statements about feelings towards and evaluations of oneself and assesses the extent of agreement and disagreement with each. A rating scale (1 – 4) was used as it is most useful when a behaviour needs to be evaluated on a continuity (Data Collection Methods, n.d.).

The result of the survey was calculated by accumulating the marks obtained by each participant after every survey. The scores ranged from 10 to 40. Participants who scored above or equal to 25 will suggest as having high self-esteem while those who scored below 25 will suggest as having low self-esteem. The results were then be transferred to Microsoft Excel for further analyzation.

Chapter 4: Findings and Discussions

Figure 1: showing the number of participant in the different category of birth order.

Figure 1 shows that a total number of 179 participants were involved in the study. 62 of them were the first-born child, 56 were the second or middle child, and 59 of them were the youngest or only child in their family. Two of the participants were categorized as others because they were neither the first, second nor youngest child in their family.

Figure 2: showing the age of the participants in the present study.

The pie chart in Figure 2 shows the distribution of age among the 179 participants. 1% and 3% of the participants were aged 16 and 17 severally. 47% of the participants were 18 years old and 8% were 19 years old. Participants aged 20 and 21 occupied 16% and 13% of the pie chart respectively. The remaining were participants aged 22, 23, 24 and 25 who held 5%, 4%, 2% and 1% of the pie chart independently.

Figure 3: showing the percentage of high and low self-esteem against birth category.

A participant who scored a total score more than or equal to 25 in the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) is categorized as having a high level of self-esteem whereas for those who scored a total score below 25 is considered having low self-esteem. Figure 3 shows that among the first-born children, 77.42% of them have high self-esteem while the remaining have low self-esteem. In the second or middle child category, 62.50% of them have a high level of self-esteem, the remaining 37.50% is classified as having a low level of self-esteem. 72.88% of the youngest or only child has a high level of self-esteem and 27.12% of them scored below 25 marks, therefore, they are categorized as having low self-esteem. In the ‘other’ category, the number of participants having a high and low level of self-esteem shares the same percentage which is 50%.

Figure 4: showing the average self-esteem score obtained by different category of birth order.

In figure 4, the result showed that first-born children had the highest average self-esteem score (M=27.94). Second-born or middle-born children had average self-esteem score (M=27.04) while youngest or last-born children had the least average self-esteem score (M=26.15). The average self-esteem score for other-born children is (M=23.5).

In the comparison of four birth categories, the first-born child category shows the highest level of self-esteem. The higher the score in the RSES, the higher the level of self-esteem is. Overall, the first-born participants averagely scored the highest mark than the other three categories. The hypothesis is accepted. Firstborn of a family has a higher level of self-esteem compared to the second and the last-born member of a family. However, the last-born member has higher self-esteem score than the middle-born member.

This result proves Adler’s Birth Theory which stating the first-born child has a higher level of self-esteem and the self-esteem will be lower the further they down the sibling line (Daly, 2014). This can be explained because parents have more patience for the first-born children to shape their personality. When the number of children increases, parents might not be able to provide the same condition to facilitate their personality.

Self-esteem was found to be related to the position of an individual in a family. As suggested by Gates et al. (1986), first-born children are overall healthier than other children. This is because first-born children have higher chance to receive appraisal from the figure of authority in the family than other children. The result is similar to the study of Falbo (1981), who found out that first-born children have higher self-esteem compared to other children. In general, first-born children score according to Sear’s study (1970) and showed that birth order affects an individual’s self-esteem.

However, the results are different from Nystul’s (1976) study, which stated that there were no significant differences in the level of self-esteem between the first and later-born child. Since the categorization of Nystul’s study has only two birth order categories, the results of the current study and Nystul’s study will result in a huge contrast.

Furthermore, the result of the study was found to contradict Adlerian notion (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956), which stated that second-born children placed in a superior position than first-born children. In most of the cases, first-born children are the one who occupied the superior position. First-born children enjoy a period of time which they do not have to compete with their siblings for parental attention. During this period of time, self-esteem is developed rapidly in first-born children. This results in the higher level of self-esteem in them compared to the children in other birth categories.

In addition, the self-esteem of second-born children is higher than the last-born children. The second-born children received lesser parental attention compared to the first-born and last-born, hence, they tend to be more competitive to seek parental attention (Warner, 2017). Since the second-born children are usually competitive, they compete with their more powerful siblings. From that, they have developed their self-esteem.

In conclusion, the current study had studied the birth order and self-esteem in college students. As a result, the first-born child has the highest level of self-esteem compared to the second-born child, youngest or only child and the ‘others’ categories.

Limits and Recommendations

One of the limits in the current study is the number of participants in each age group. A total of 179 participants were involved in the current study. However, 47% of the participants, which was 84 of them are aged 18 whereas participants aged 16 and 25 only occupied 2% equally of the total number of participants. This results in a huge contrast between the number of participants in different age groups. One’s level of self-esteem differs from age to age (Bleidorn, et al., 2016); hence, the mean score will be less accurate than the real situation as the number of participants for each age group is inconsistent. A constant variable of age group can be applied for future research. Apart from this, a constant number of participants in each birth category can be assigned before the survey is conducted. As a result, the level of self-esteem for the different birth categories can be analysed and studied in depth.

Another limitation of the current study is that different external factors affecting self-esteem are not taken into consideration. External factors such as difficult and stressful life experiences and family economic status play an important role in affecting one’s level of self-esteem. For future research, a fixed family economic status group of participants can produce a more accurate and actual result.

The lack of usage of self-esteem scale is one of the limitations of the current study. The current study used only one scale to measure one’s level of self-esteem, which was the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES). Although the validity and reliability of the RSES are assured, using more scale to determine self-esteem will increase the accuracy of the result. Different scales such as the General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE) can be used for future research so that the level of one’s self-esteem will be finely measured.

Lastly, another limitation of the current study is about a suggestion given by Alfred Adler (1927). In the Adler’s Birth Theory, he suggested that if the age gap between children exceeds three years, sub-groups of birth order may form (Topness, 2014). This suggestion was not taken into consideration in the current study. For future research, researchers should take note of the age gap of the participants with their siblings to avoid misinterpretations.

Chapter 5: Conclusion

Self-esteem is important in developing one’s personality. Several studies have done in different directions and showed a different result. Most of the studies showed that birth order and self-esteem are related. The present study found out that the first-born children have the highest self-esteem compared to the other birth categories. The present study is expected to provide more understanding to the society. Improvements need to be done for further research regarding birth order and self-esteem.

Research Questions

1. How does birth order influences self-esteem?


Birth order influences an individual’s self-esteem through the parental attention received by the individual. First-born children receive more parental attention before other siblings are born, therefore, they have a better condition to facilitate the development of self-esteem. Moreover, children from different birth categories might receive different parenting style from their parents. For instance, the youngest member in a family is more pampered than the other siblings. When entering adulthood, the youngest children will tend to be dependent on others and have less confidence, which makes them have low self-esteem.

2. Which category of birth order has the highest level of self-esteem?


First-born children have the highest level of self-esteem than second-born and last-born children. Last-born children have the least level of self-esteem.


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