Research into birth order has long suggested that first-born sons are more likely to benefit from a factor called the “birth order effect.” For example, recent research suggests that such first-born sons are more likely to be represented among the ranks of CEOs of small businesses than their younger siblings. However, dig a little deeper into the research and you’ll find some advantages of not being the oldest. 


According to Shankar Vedantam, host of NPR’s Hidden Brain, first-borns benefit from a few obvious factors: “Parents play favorites with firstborns…and for some period of time, they get to enjoy their parents’ undivided attention.”

Recently, economists Stephan Siegel and Claudia Custodio looked into the potential that such advantages translate into someone becoming a CEO of a small business. They found that oldest children, especially oldest sons, are, indeed, more likely to become a CEO than their younger siblings. This is especially true in family-owned firms in which traditional patterns of succession could be a factor.

The birth order effect “exception”

According to the research, among CEOs who started their own business, there is no “birth-order effect” between oldest and younger born siblings. “Being a younger-born child might actually put you in good stead. You might be someone who takes more risks, which is probably a good thing if you’re going to start a startup,” said Vedantam.


“Whether one becomes a CEO is less about being an older sibling or a younger sibling.
It’s more about the individual.”


Bottom-line: Birth-order doesn’t determine one’s success or failure

Birth-order effects are interesting, but they should be viewed in the same way personality tests are viewed. They can tell you about some of the things that influence your behavior. “But they are not deterministic,” said Vedantam.  “Whether one becomes a CEO is less about being an older sibling or a younger sibling. It’s more about the individual.”