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Birth Order and Romantic Relationship Styles and Attitudes in College Students

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This study examined the relations between birth order and romantic relationship attitudes and styles. Birth order position (oldest, middle, youngest, only) was predicted to influence how participants behave and think in relationships. One hundred male and female college students answered survey questions on jealousy, attitudes toward love, love styles, attachment, and their own romantic relationships. The middle birth order position participants reported significantly higher jealousy ratings than the oldest birth order position participants, and the youngest birth order position participants reported significantly higher romantic ratings than the oldest birth order position participants. Other results reveal trends for a possible birth order effect in romantic relationship styles and attitudes.


Family relationships can have a strong impact on individuals' lives. People's siblings and parents can teach them ways to interact with others, how to deal with jealousy, how to share, how to love, and so forth. Unique family experiences and perspectives, such as birth order, have been theorized to shape people's personalities and foster certain traits more than others (Adler, 1927; Sulloway, 1996). Even though siblings are generally raised together, differences in birth order position may result in perspectives on life and relationships being quite different between siblings. When people seek romantic relationships as they grow up, might they have a tendency to transfer what they have learned in their family relationships to their romantic ones? Will a person's early family experiences impact their later attachment to a relationship partner? If a person has dealt with being jealous of siblings, are they more or less likely to be jealous in romantic relationships? Do personality traits associated with a particular birth order make a person more likely to develop a particular love style or attitude? Will a person be more or less attracted to someone who shares his or her birth order due to similarities or differences in personalities? The present study will attempt to answer these types of questions.

Alfred Adler (1927) initiated an interest in people's birth order and the impact it had on personality. It has been theorized that each birth order position carries with it a set of personality traits. Firstborn children are often viewed as leaders, who follow the rules (Adler, 1927; Gfroerer, Gfroerer, Curlette, White, & Kern, 2003; Stewart, 2004). Firstborns are often ambitious, more conforming, have a closer identification with parental authority (Sulloway, 1996), and tend to have higher self-esteem than laterborns (Falbo, 1981). Children in the middle birth order position may feel slighted and out of place, and may take longer to find their role within the family (Adler, 1927; Stewart, 2004). They may strive for fairness in their struggle to stay ahead of their younger sibling and keep up with their older sibling (Adler, 1927; Stewart, 2004). Middle birth position children are often the peacemakers in the family (Gfroerer et al., 2003). Youngest children are often viewed as spoiled or babied (Stewart, 2004), and tend to be more free-spirited, social, and cooperative than firstborns (Sulloway, 1996). Only children are also viewed as spoiled because they are the only focus in the family (Adler, 1927; Stewart, 2004; Gfroerer et al., 2003). They may simultaneously reflect some firstborn traits and some lastborn traits. Only children may be leaders, but they may also be used to being the center of attention (Stewart, 2004). Empirical support for Adler's theories has been limited. More support tends to come from archival research than controlled methods (e.g., Ernst & Angst, 1983; Leman, 1985; Sulloway, 1996). Some studies look more at how specific traits, such as intelligence, relate to birth order (e.g., Belmont, Stein, & Wittes, 1976; Bjerkedal, Kristensen, & Skjeret, 2007). Supported findings allow for greater generalization for the theory, however, unsupported findings have value in that they may lead to revisions or focus on different aspects of the theory.

The experience of birth order position, and its associated personality traits and family attention, may impact the way individuals behave and think in romantic relationships. Birth order may be important in understanding the development of jealousy, attitudes toward love, love styles, attachment, and similarity in romantic relationships.

Jealousy was defined by Pfeiffer and Wong (1989) as a largely negative emotion that is multidimensional in its complexity. Applied to romantic relationships, jealousy involves the fear of losing someone who is cared about and valued. Jealousy can also occur in many other types of relationships, such as family relationships and friendships (Buunk & Dijkstra, 2000). Certain personality characteristics can make people more susceptible to jealousy, such as attachment style, low self-esteem, and emotional dependency (Hendrick, 2004). We predicted the middle child participants would report the most jealousy followed by the youngest child participants, only child participants, and the oldest child participants would report the least jealousy. These predictions are based on research by Buunk (1997), in which laterborns were found to be more jealous in romantic relationships than first-borns after controlling for personality differences between first and laterborns, differences in attachment style, gender, and occupational level of the father. Why would the oldest be the least jealous? It might be due to the fact that oldest children are forced to deal with jealousy issues early in life when they receive a new sibling and must compete for attention. According to Ansbacher and Ansbacher (1956), Adler believed that siblings were striving for niches in family. When the oldest children find their niche, it may reduce feelings of jealousy because they have won, or given up in certain areas like intelligence or achievement. This idea may lead to older children adapting to competition, which they would apply to other situations like romantic relationships. They might be more confident and feel less threatened due to past successes at overcoming jealousy towards siblings. The laterborn children are "stereotypically babied" by the entire family (Adler, 1927; Stewart 2004), so they may not experience or deal with as much jealousy as the older siblings. Laterborns and only children may be more jealous in relationships because they are not used to attention being taken away from them, and in a relationship, they might feel that they will lose their partner to someone else.

Knox and Sporakowski (1968) identified romantic love and realistic love as being the two primary attitudes towards love. Romantic love is characterized



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