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Birth order never takes a back seat

I never call “shotgun!” Whenever I find myself travelling in a car with my younger brother and one of our parents, I always sit in the front.

I never call “shotgun!”

Whenever I find myself travelling in a car with my younger brother and one of our parents, I always sit in the front. It doesn’t matter that we are both fully grown 20-somethings; I’m the eldest, so there’s no debating who gets the coveted passenger seat.

As the assertive (OK, bossy) first-born, I insist on the prime spot in the parental vehicle while he — the agreeable younger child — willingly concedes. This is just one of the many unspoken rules in our family that has come about as a result of our birth order.

While there are only 16 short months between our birthdays, my brother and I are vastly different when it comes to personality. I have always been overachieving, fiercely independent, and, at times, a bit of a stress case. I am overly conscientious, have a hard time breaking rules and will people-please to a fault. In comparison, he is easy-going but less disciplined, unlikely to take charge and much more dependent.

I know my brother and I aren’t alone in this seemingly typical eldest/youngest family dynamic. Among my friends — who run the gamut of the birth-order spectrum — there does seem to be some truth to the assumptions associated with sibling sequence. I know plenty of responsible first-borns with perfectionist tendencies and coddled last-borns who can do no wrong.

Birth-order stereotypes are most pronounced when it comes to only children. Without any competitors for their parents’ affections, single children are perceived (sometimes accurately so) as selfish, overindulged brats. Oh, wait — did I forget to mention middle children? Well, that seems about right. The oft-ignored middle siblings tend to get lost in the shuffle. While it’s fun to make casual observations about our own friends and families, we have to wonder whether there is any real truth behind these common stereotypes. Is there any conclusive evidence to suggest that one’s position on the family totem pole really does have a definitive impact on our personality?

Birth-order theory is a bit of a grey area, both supported and refuted in the world of pop psychology. For every theorist who argues in favour of the importance of sibling sequence on overall development, it seems there are about twice as many critics raising their eyebrows. Some even equate birth order with astrology — a cute personality predictor with no conclusive evidence to back it up.

Scientific validity aside, it doesn’t change the fact that I always get the front seat.