The Correlation Between Birth Order and Roommate Relationships of Freshmen in College
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
ZUCHOWSKI, M. E. (2001). The Correlation Between Birth Order and Roommate Relationships of Freshmen in College. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Correlation Between Birth Order and Roommate Relationships of Freshmen in College

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
AbstractThe purpose of this research was to investigate the correlation of birth order and roommate relationships. A survey was given to 49 Intro to Psychology freshmen, both male and female, and of different ethnicities. Evaluation of satisfaction with roommate scores on the survey were correlated with the participant’s birth order and gender. Findings indicated that there were no significant correlations among birth order and roommate satisfaction. However, there was statistical differences among the means of first borns and later borns. Improved roommate assignments for freshmen in college is discussed with further research on the subject.

The Correlation between Birth Order and Roommate Relationships of freshmen in College There is a great deal of change in the lives of young adults who enter college. Students must deal with academic adjustment as well as social, especially those living away from home. For those living on campus, a roommate unavoidably becomes a very large part of life. Hopefully, a good, healthy relationship will form instead of a conflict filled, disrespectful one. There are many factors that influence relationships. A person’s cultural background, the area in which a person is from, similarity in interests and hobbies as well as moral values all play a role in how two individuals interact with each other. A great deal also depends on the family life in which a person has lived in. The context of sibling and parental relationships could parallel the relationships to be formed with a roommate. If birth order does, indeed, correlate with roommate happiness, perhaps the knowledge could be used to match up better-paired roommates. This would allow freshmen students to enjoy one less stress in making the transition to college. One major factor influencing the quality of relationships and hence the transition to college is proximity. Festinger, Schachter and Back (1950) believe that simply being forced to live with someone in close living areas promotes friendship and therefore a good relationship. In a study of friendship formation patterns in apartment complexes, they found that those who lived next door or very close became friends, and those who were more distant within the complex did not know each other very well. This is just one of the many theories on relationship development. More important than any other factor in determining quality of relationships is personality. Personality has been the main consideration in numerous studies, which can be applied to birth order, since each position in the family has been found to possess similar personality traits and characteristics. A person’s personality consists of ideas and views the person finds valuable and lives by. This is how one is identified as a person, by their morals and standards. Just as personality identification is important in adolescents, a time of finding oneself (Carli, Ganley, & Pierce-Otay 1991), so it is to freshmen college students who are stepping into a new area of their lives. If looking for similar personality traits is a way of seeking approval, college students may also seek a roommate that has the same opinions and ideas. Ideally, case studies could be performed to find the best possible roommate matches. However, such studies would be highly flawed because of the intrusion on personal life. Television shows, such as MTV’s Real World, in a broad sense, have captured the idea of finding correlations between persons who form good relationships and persons who tend to conflict. Again, knowledge of being broadcasted to the entire United States creates an unrealistic research setting. However, the show does aim to find similarities in personality for those that get along well and those that disagree. Many studies have focused on compatibility in relationships. A great deal of social psychology assesses personality and the interaction of people. Katz (1979) believes that those with similar personalities, morale, and level of maturity get along better than those who generally do not agree on such issues, disagreeing with the notion that “opposites attract”. In her study, Katz (1979) had freshman roommates in college paired up based on similar or dissimilar personalities, to observe the roommate compatibility throughout the year. She sent out an initial questionnaire before the school year began, to find out which persons could be matched with similar personalities. She measured compatibility by room changes and roommate requests for the following year. Her findings supported her hypothesis that similar personalities had better compatibility (Katz 1979). If similar personalities are the best determinate of compatibility, then each birth order position would best get along with other persons of the same birth order position. There have been numerous amounts of birth order studies, and though the data varies, there are specific trends in personality of each birth position. First born children have generally been categorized as overachievers as far as goals are concerned, and thus also competitive in their actions. Academically, they are perceived as superior, even by other siblings (Paulhus, Trapnell & Chen 1999). Though first borns are more sensitive and aware of others (McArthur 1956), they also have been found to be consistently afraid of conflict and place a higher value on possessions and physical goods (Zemanek 2000). According to Zemanek, in a study involving mailed questionnaires, firstborns tend to show higher materialistic qualities. Competition is the major issue that middle born children deal with. They are constantly striving to surpass their older siblings and often are demanding and seek great attention (Ernst & Angst 1983). The later born children also have a general characterization. They are less goal oriented and do not feel the need to compete, making them more easy going, socially. They also are more socially aware of their peers, and tend to be the "popular children" or the exact opposite, "the outcasts" (McArthur 1956). The purpose of this study was to find if such birth order personalities were related to the type of relationships people form, particularly with roommates. From the past research on typical birth order traits, it appeared that roommates would report better relationships if they were middle or later born children, because of past experience in sharing responsibilities of the household. First borns would have to learn to deal with a new person in their life of the same rank in the new living situation. All chores and room responsibilities would be equal for the first time for many oldest children. Other factors that might influence a good relationship in collegefreshmen would be gender and number of siblings in a family. Also considering past research, any person that grew up with siblings or that is male would score higher on roommate satisfaction, than those that were only children or are female. Only children have obviously not had to deal with equality in a living situation, and males are generally less sensitive than women, which leads to less conflict.

Participants: The participants consisted of 13 males and 36 females of freshmen college age (17-19 years old). The aim was to recruit the same number of participants for each gender, however, the pool in which participants were taken from were majority female. The participants were limited to freshman at Loyola University living on campus, in the dorms. These participants volunteered from Intro to Psychology classes of three different teachers for redemption of course credit. The students were asked to participate in the study at the end of the specified classes, allotting enough time to complete the survey. Materials: The materials used in the study were an informed consent form, an experimenter created survey, and a pencil. The demographic questions of the survey included name, age, and brother(s), sister(s) age(s) (to determine their birth order rank). Birth order was measured by the ages indicated of siblings against the participant’s own age. Questions about roommate relationships followed. These questions, in the form of statements, were directed toward activities that roommates engaged in together (ex. I eat dinner with my roommate), as well as general satisfaction of the relationship (ex. I feel that my roommate is respectful of my things) (see Appendix). Scoring was based on a high score of 60 (12 questions on a scale of 1-5). The study was of convenience sampling. Design And Procedure:This research was a correlational study on birth order and roommate relationships, between participants. In this study, those were the two main variables under investigation. However, a few other variables were also considered in the data: gender, number of siblings, and the age distance between siblings. Birth order was based on rank in the family. Those that were born first and were the oldest, were called “first borns”. Those who were of families with only two children were considered “later borns” or the last children. If a family had three or more children, the last children born were called the “later borns”. Children who fell in between two or more siblings in age were called “middle children”, and obviously those who had no siblings were called “only children”. Non-traditional families were controlled for by participant indication of siblings who were stepchildren and did not live with them; those siblings were notconsidered when taking birth order into account. The other major variable, roommate relationship was defined as a healthy, respectful, non-conflicting relationship, which included characteristics of friendship, as measured by an experimenter created survey. Gender was categorized as male and female, and the distance of siblings in age was considered by the number of years apart participants were from their siblings. With permission from the Professors, the students were asked at the beginning of class to fill out the short survey about general relationships. Participants were handed a packet containing an informed consent to keep and a two-page survey. The informed consent did not require a signature, as the research was anonymous. The survey consisted of a few demographic questions along with roommate relationship inquiries. After the survey was completed, it was returned and signatures were given for acknowledgment of course credit. Participants were reminded that the results of the study would be posted in mid-December on an undergraduate web site, and told that the study was being conducted to see if birth order and roommate relationship correlate. Any questions were answered. The participants were thanked and dismissed.

The main effect of roommate relationships was found not to be statistically significant, F(3, 49) = 1.618, p = .199. The greatest statistical mean difference on scores of roommate relationships was found between first borns (M = 38.79, SD = 12.23) and later borns (M = 45.81, SD = 7.82). Later borns had the highest scores (M = 45.81, SD = 7.82), followed by the only children (M = 43.00, SD = 7.35), then middle (M = 42.43, SD = 5.21), and finally first borns. Standard deviation of the mean for birth orders was generally the same, varying from 5.21 to 7.82, except for first borns who had a much greater deviation (SD = 12.23). One-way ANOVA was performed on first born and later borns. The results were not significant, F(3, 49) = 3.64, p=0.067.

The study did not find significant results for the correlation of birth order with roommate relationships. It had been expected that later borns would have higher scoring on roommate satisfaction than first borns or middle borns. This patterning was exhibited, though the findings were not significant either. Except for a few high scores, generally, first borns scored lower in on the survey. Any trend in scores supports the view that there are specific personality trends in birth orders. The group, first borns, that did relatively worse on roommate satisfaction scoring obviously has a personality trait that provokes conflict. According to Zemanek these qualities of conflict could be power, authority, and higher values on materialistic things. First born’s consistent fear of conflict would also impede on small issues being resolved, which would lead to greater conflict (Zemanek 2000). Distribution was generally the same across birth order, except for only children. One reason that only children received such high scores was because their sample size was exceptionally low (N=5). Only children had been expected to do much worse on roommate satisfaction, because of the lack of sibling interaction in dealing with conflict and resolution. If the study was conducted over a larger population, where more equally distributed groups could be obtained, perhaps results would be more consistent with what was expected. A larger sample size would also have been helpful in finding a higher correlation of first borns with relatively low roommate satisfaction scores. The scoring on the roommate relationships survey of first borns was generally medium to low scores, with 3 outliers of extreme high scores. The hypothesis may have very well been supported if there had been more time for collection of participants. Another problem with the study was the failure to recognize each participant’s roommate birth order. With addition of this information, inferences could be made about compatibility of each type of birth order, instead of just personality of each birth order regarding roommate relationships. This compatibility of birth orders has been previously researched, and findings show that there are differences formed in relationships according to each person’s birth order. Non-complementary relationships exist between two first borns, and complementary relationships exist between a first born and a later born (Toman 1976). This study could expand on Toman’s work if this measure had been investigated, and thus better judgement on the matching of freshmen roommates could be made. The survey could also be improved upon for the evaluation of a healthy roommate relationship. The survey measured activities with roommates and feelings of respect of things and space. More questions concerning emotions and feelings toward the roommates’ ideas and values could be beneficial. Along with the survey improvements, the time of the school year when the study was conducted could be changed. The survey was only rated as of knowing roommates for approximately two months. With the addition of more participants and a renovation of the survey to better test roommate relationships, possible correlations could be made. If such was improved, the findings could help match better roommates in first year students, and thus make the transition to college a great deal easier. The knowledge of personality of birth orders would also be expanded. By not just studying typical characteristics of each birth position, but instead their relationships with other birth orders, a greater understanding of relationship formation could also be gained.

Carli, L.L., Ganley, R., & Pierce-Otay, A. (1991). Similarity and satisfaction in roommate relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 419-426.

Ernst, C., & Angst, J. (1983). Birth order, its influence on personality. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New York. 86, 168.

Festinger L., Schachter S., & Back K. (1963). Social pressures in informal groups: a study of human factors in housing. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 5-12.

Katz, E. (1979). A study of college roommate compatibility. Jones Hall Tulane University Archives (theses). 2-8.

McAthur, C. (1956). Personalities of first and second children. Psychiatry 19, 47-54.

Paulhus, D.L., Trapnell, P.D., & Chen, D. (1999). Birth order effects on personality andachievement within families. American Psychological Society, 10, 482-488. Retrieved October 15, 2001 from

Toman, W. (1976). Family constellation. New York , NY: Springer Publishing Company. 84.

Zemanek, J.E., J.R., & Claxton, R.P. (2000). Relationship of birth order and marketing-related variable of materialism. Psychological Reports, 86, 429-434.

Please do not write your name anywhere on this paper.You can begin the survey as soon as you receive it, and return it to me the next time I return to your class. Thank you.

1. Age_______ years old

2. Sex (circle one): Male Female

3. Major_____________________

4. Are you the only child in your family? (circle one) YES NO

5. If not, how many siblings do you have? Brother(s)_______Age(s)___________ Sister(s)_________Age(s)___________

6. Did you come to this school already knowing someone (circle one)? YES NO

Is that person your roommate (circle one)? YES NO CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE…

Birth Order and Roommate Relationships 13

Please rate the following three questions based on the scale below:

1-once or never 2-every now and then 3-some of the time 4-most of the time 5-all of the time

7. I have enjoyed the social aspect of college so far______8. I have enjoyed my classes so far______9. I have enjoyed living in the residence halls so far______10. I eat dinner with my roommate______11. I have attended campus activities with my roommate______12. I have gone out with my roommate on a night or on a weekend_______13. I enjoy my roommate’s company_______14. I feel that my roommate is respectful of my things_______15. I feel that my roommate has an understanding and respect for me______16. I have been angry or upset with my roommate_______17. I have spoken to someone else about things that upset me about my roommate______18. I feel that my roommate does not make an effort to understand my situation and where I am coming from______

Again, Thank you very much for your time.

Submitted 12/17/2001 12:29:14 PM
Last Edited 12/17/2001 1:05:19 PM
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