The Sibling Effect: Why Older Kids Are Smarter, Younger Ones Are Funnier and Other Amazing Facts About Birth Order

Raising more than one kid can be a handful -- as any mom who has ever tried to put one child in time out while seeing if the other needs stitches can tell you. But choosing to have more than one means you're also helping your kids form one of the longest and most important relationships they'll ever know. And it's a bond that affects who they are from the start, according to Jeffrey Kluger, author of the new book The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us. Here's how birth order matters.

Firstborns are smarter. Oldest kids tend to have a 3-point IQ over the second born, and a 1.5 advantage over the third -- so don’t beat yourself up if your younger kids don’t make straight A’s like the first. Kluger says firstborns benefit from mom and dad’s undivided attention, and learn from teaching their younger sibs.

Younger siblings are more empathetic. Older sibs might be slightly smarter, but younger sibs are often more attuned to others. Why? “An older child is usually physically larger and knows how the world works more, so they have a higher-power advantage. A younger sibling has to develop more subtle ways to maneuver the household,” says Kluger. “If you can mind-read a little, it’s a way of compensating for being physically smaller and weaker.” He adds, “It’s no accident that most comedians are younger or youngest children”

Younger siblings often choose different activities and careers from their older sibs. Kluger says younger siblings often try to “de-identify” from older brothers and sisters, so don’t be surprised if your bookworm firstborn is followed by an athlete. “They are looking for something that is unique to them, and will attract 100 percent of the attention.”

Younger siblings are more likely to get sick. Yes, this can be a bummer, but the good news is this isn’t necessarily a bad thing -- consider it your way of building your child’s immunity. “There does tend to be a greater parental frenzy and attentiveness toward health with the firstborn. That stand down from hyper-vigilence can be good -- just don’t get too lax,” says Kruger, who reminds parents to get their kids vaccinated on time, and to keep in mind that younger kids often pick up germs from older siblings, which just can’t be avoided.

Younger siblings can parrot bad behavior. Younger sibs inevitably try to emulate their older brother or sister, particularly when the firstborn is acting out. An older sibling who smokes makes it four times likelier a younger sib will start. Regarding teen pregnancy, a younger sister is five times likelier to be a teen mom if her older sister is one already. Kruger says the key is prevention from the start -- set good habits with your firstborn, and you should have an easier time with subsequent kids (in theory, anyway).

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