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Who came first? And does it matter?

R. Srinivasan
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A look at the impact of birth order on the education of siblings. Is the first child really the luckier one?

Second time luckyDue to a variety of factors, younger siblings usually tend to grow up in a better atmosphere than the older ones.photo: AFP
Second time luckyDue to a variety of factors, younger siblings usually tend to grow up in a better atmosphere than the older ones.photo: AFP

A family is a mini society whose environment plays a significant role in the growth of individuals and in the formation of human capital. A child born in a family is likely to be affected by factors like parents’ education, physical resources, family size, birth order, gender differences etc.

Socio-economic factors

The healthier and more resourceful the family, the more intelligent and productive the children. These children become assets to the family, society and the nation. They don’t suffer from maladjustment, aggressiveness and the feelings of alienation. Instead, they cooperate with one another, developing the feeling of oneness with a healthy and a positive mind. The way children born to highly educated parents perceive the world tends to be more positive and productive. On the other hand, children born in the low socio-economic families, to uneducated parents, are risk being brought up in a non-ideal atmosphere for them to grow up both mentally and physically.

First-born advantage, a myth

Another important factor influencing the mental health and educational attainment of a child is birth order. Unlike in China, where a single child policy is advocated by the government, in India two children policy is considered to be the ideal both by the educated society and the government.

There is a common belief that the first-born gets maximum attention and thereby that child will be healthier and better in all respects. On the contrary, it is observed that the first child is deprived of many advantages in comparison to the second child, as the parents are less mentally mature and emotionally prepared. Moreover, parents will be struggling for the economic stability as they are most probably just beginning their careers. But by the time the second child is born they will be in a better position to handle everything.

The environment in the family will be far better than the time when the first child was born, providing ideal atmosphere for the second child to grow in a better manner.

Moreover, the second-born will have the advantage of taking the help of the elder sibling in school lessons and more. He or she will have a companion within the family unlike the elder sibling considering modern families with both the parents employed.

Many perks

With someone in the family to play and interact with, the second-born child will be in a more comfortable position while growing. A close observation highlights the existence of a positive effect between elder siblings and younger siblings. This positive effect could be either a role model or resource contribution effect. The resource contribution need not be only in terms of monetary or material but it can be transmission of education and knowledge. The second-born child will come to understand the shortcomings and failures of his or her sibling and will avoid making the same mistakes the elder one did. In the case of families from a low socio-economic background, the elder sibling often helps funding and facilitating the education of the younger one. An empirical study on the impact of birth order and gender variation on the educational attainment of siblings, going into the details of human capital formation such as disadvantages and advantages of single child norm, advantages of siblings in case of both male, female and male, and both females, the elder being female or male etc. in Indian society will certainly throw more light on the difference in personality of individuals within a family and their contribution to the society.

(R. Srinivasan is the Principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Air Force Station, Sulur, Coimbatore)




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