Does Birth Order Influence Our Finances?

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Some experts insist birth order determines your financial behavior. Here's why that's ridiculous.

Many people believe birth order is responsible for their status in life. I happen to be a first-born child, which is why I love to remind my younger sister that scientific studies suggest first-born kids are smarter than their siblings.

Proponents of this train of thought usually note that the overwhelming majority of Nobel Laureates happen to be first-born children, as were 21 of the first 23 American astronauts sent into space. (Never mind that it would have been a perfect 23 for 23 if the parents of the other two astronauts had decided to have more than one child.)

Others assert that first-born kids are more apt to be leaders. For instance, surveys show that they’re more likely than their younger siblings to become CEOs. And the majority of U.S. presidents have been first-born children too.

So are first-born kids, on average, really smarter? It’s possible. Do they tend to make better leaders? Maybe.

Less convincing to me, however, are the psychiatrists who want us to believe that birth order also plays an important role in how we handle our personal finances. According to these behavioral scientists:

  • First-born children are more likely to keep their finances in order and have higher credit scores.
  • Middle children are more likely to hide or ignore financial problems.
  • Last-borns are prone to instant gratification and have trouble saving.
  • “Only children” are more susceptible to living beyond their means.

I don’t buy it. If you ask me, these claims are no more credible than the dubious assertions found in a typical financial horoscope. Trying to correlate one’s financial behavior to birth order is preposterous on its face – a financial old wives’ tale.

A recent survey by backs me up on this: Birth order doesn’t matter.

In fact, although the press release stated otherwise, the survey shows very little statistical difference between first-born, middle-born, last-born, and only children when it comes to saving money, investment strategy, and overall financial responsibility.

Looking at my two kids, they certainly aren’t following the script. My 14-year-old son Matthew is a terrible saver and has no interest in managing his money. On the other hand, my 12-year-old daughter Nina not only knows how to save and manage her money, she’s a real entrepreneur with a savvy business sense.

Let’s face it: Most people in debt up to their eyeballs are in that situation because they lack self-control, not because of their position on the family tree.

Likewise, the majority of folks who successfully manage their money – regardless of their income – do so because they believe in personal responsibility and have good personal finance habits. For example, most all of them:

  • Understand the difference between a want and a need.
  • Dutifully track all of their expenses.
  • Know the difference between good debt and bad debt.
  • Always spend less than they earn.

We can’t choose our birth order. However, in most cases we can control our financial fate – regardless of where we fall in the family pecking order. We just have to be willing to make the right decisions along the way.

Stacy Johnson

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