Birth Order and Its Effect on Motivation and Academic Achievement
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:
DAILEY, K. M. (2006). Birth Order and Its Effect on Motivation and Academic Achievement. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 9. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Birth Order and Its Effect on Motivation and Academic Achievement

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
This study looks at the effect of birth order on academic motivation. Participants were given the Academic Motivation Scale and a short background questionnaire. This scale was given anonymously. No significant differences were found between birth orders, though a significant difference was found in the interaction between birth order and GPA. This study would need many more participants to show a significant difference, as birth order effects are normally very small.

Birth order can affect many aspects of an individualís life. It has been shown to affect things like personality (Howarth, 1982), self-esteem (Romeo, 1994), and cognitive achievement (Travis, 1995). Birth order has even been thought to have an effect on the big five personality traits, or five factor, with correlations between what a persons birth order is and how they manifest qualities in the big five (Wikipedia, 2006). There is evidence that these differences could be a result of varying levels of parental attention or sibling competition (Burden & Perkins, 1987). The birth order theory states that a personís position in their family does seem to affect their behavior both at home and at school (Morales, 1995 as cited in Dreikurs, 1958). First born children seem to have higher academic achievement than middle or last born children (Paulhus, Trapnelll, & Chen, 1999; Phillips, 1994). These findings have been seen as false by some researchers, who say that factors such as the motherís age at birth, number of siblings, genetics and environment have more to do with academic achievement (Scholastic, 2006). In fact, birth order is a controversial topic, and has been debated for decades.To make the birth order controversy more complicated, Adler (1927, as cited in Gfroerer, Gfroerer, Curlette, White, & Kern, 2003) has argued that individuals also have a psychological birth order, which also has effects on personality and therefore achievement. Adler has said that ďan individualís given place in the family does not always correspond with how the person psychologically interprets that place.Ē Birth order has been shown to have a small effect on educational motivation and achievement, even after dealing with confounds such as social status (Marjoribanks, 2003). The bulk of research suggests that being the first born in a family has positive implications. In addition to seeming to have an impact on academic motivation, being first born may also have an impact on creativity (Baer, Oldham, Hollingshead, & Jacobsohn, 2005). Firstbornís also seem to be more heavily represented in academically elite individuals (Hayes, Bronzaft, 1979).Alfred Adler (1931, as cited in Greenberg, Gueiuno, Lashen, Mayer & Piskowski, 1963) used birth order theory to predict behavior. He theorized that birth order had a significant effect on personality, with both first born and last born children exhibiting higher levels of problem behavior, and middle children ending up resentful of authority. However, he didnít just focus on negative outcomes, as he saw differences in leadership abilities and other positive qualities.Of course, birth order has different effects depending on the family itself. According to Needlman (2001), there are exceptions to every idea about birth order, but there are also average outcomes. In general, first born children are seen as more responsible, with high parental expectations. The middle born children often feel more adrift in the family and turn to other means of validation, such as friends and activities. Last born children tend to be more easygoing and used to having their way. Yet these are only generalities, as the number of children in a family and the space between births also seems to have an effect on these roles.The purpose of this study is to compare academic motivation, grade point average, and birth order to determine a correlation between the three. This study should support other research that found a correlation between being first born and high academic motivation.


The participants were 40 students from Missouri Western State University, a mid- size university in northwest Missouri. These participants consist of students in different level Psychology courses. There were significantly more females than males, which seems fairly common on studies done with Psychology students.

The measure used in this study was the Academic Motivation Scale (Baker, 1984), with questions included involving birth order and grade point average.

The participants were given the scale in class, and were anonymous. The professor handed it out to avoid confounds involving experimenter effects, and the students handed the scale back to the professor when they had completed it. The participants received extra credit for participation.

I expected to find a strong correlation between first born children and high GPA and academic motivation, with middle and last born children to have lower academic motivation.The independent variables of this study are academic motivation and the participantsí birth order- only, first, middle, or last. However, first born and only children will be put into the same group because of their similar experiences. The independent variable had two levels- first born or only child, or later born.The dependent variable is grade point average (GPA). Birth order, of course, is pre-determined. Academic motivation is a more abstract idea, and so was determined by using a measure to determine a numerical score for a participantís motivation. Grade point average was also determined by number.A 2(birth order) X 2(GPA) between subjects ANOVA was calculated comparing the motivation of first born participants to the motivation of later born participants. The main effect of being first born on GPA was not significant (F(1,36)=1.265,p>.05). The main effect of being later born on GPA was not significant (F(1,36)=6.144,p<.05). Finally, the interaction was significant (F(1,36)=.897,p>.05). Birth order effects are so small that many more participants would be needed to find a significant effect in this study.

The purpose of this study was to compare first born and later born participants to determine if birth order has a significant effect on academic motivation. It was hypothesized in this study that being first born would have a significant effect on academic motivation. This hypothesis was not supported by previous research on the topic, which suggests that being first born does impact academic motivation and achievement (Paulhus, Trapnelll, & Chen, 1999; Phillips, 1994). It also goes against evidence that birth order does have some effect on academics (Marjoribanks, 2003).The limitations of this study are fairly obvious. Many more participants would be needed to show a significant effect. Having a better balance of participantsí gender would also be recommended for future research. This study would need to be reproduced on a much larger scale to be generalized to the public.

Baer, M., Oldham, G. R., Hollingshead, A. B., & Costa Jacobsohn, G. (2005). Revisiting the birth order-creativity connection: The role of sibling constellation. Creativity Research Journal, 17, 67-77.Burden, R. L. & Perkins, R. (1987). Birth order: Some possible effects on childrenís perceptions of themselves and their siblings. Educational and Child Psychology, 4, 35-45.Falbo, T. (1981). Relationships between birth category, achievement, and interpersonal orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 121-131.Gfroerer, K. P., Gfroerer, C. A., Curlette, W. L., White, J., & Kern, R. M. Psychological birth order and the basis-a inventory. Journal of Individual Psychology, 59, 30-41.Greenberg, H., Gueiuno, R., Lasher, M., Mayer, D., & Piskowski, D. (1963). Order of birth as a determinant of personality and attitudinal characteristics. Journal of Social Psychology, 60, 221-230.Hayes, R. F., & Bronzaft, A. L. (1979). Birth order and related variables in an academically elite sample. Journal of Individual Psychology, 35, 214.Health and Wellness. (2006). Debunking the birth-order myth. Scholastic Parent and Child, 14, 62.Howarth, E. (1982). Birth order and personality: Some empirical findings and a biobehavioral theory. Personality and Individual Differences, 3, 205-210.Marjoribanks, K. (2003). Birth order, family environments, academic and affective outcomes. Psychological Reports, 92, 1284. Morales, C. A. (1994). Birth order theory: A case for cooperative learning. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 21, 246-249.Needlman, R. (2001, April). Birth order: The basics. Retrieved October 23, 2006 from the Dr. Spock web site:,1510,5550,00.html?r=related Paulhus, D. L., Trapnell, P. D., & Chen, D. (1999 ). Birth order effects on personality and achievement within families. Psychological Science, 10, 482.Phillips, A. S. & Phillips, C. R. (1994). Birth order and achievement attributions. Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research, and Practice., 50, 119.Romeo, F. F. (1994). A childís birth order: Educational implications. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 21, 155.Travis, R. & Kohli, V. (1995). The birth order factor: Ordinal position, social strata, and educational achievement. The Journal of Social Psychology,135, 499-507.

Academic Motivation Scale1. Doing well in high school was important to me.2. I wasnít very interested in my high school courses.3. In school I often got behind on daily class-work.4. I often got involved in other things I preferred to do rather than my schoolwork.5. I enjoyed doing outside readings and projects in connection with my high school courses.6. I always felt confidant in high school that I would get pretty good grades.7. I worked hard at my schoolwork in high school.8. I had high standards for my academic work in high school.9. Schoolwork bores me.10. I always have to force myself to get schoolwork done.11. I have a lot of trouble getting started on homework assignments.12. I enjoy going to classes.13. I enjoy studying.14. I get distracted very easily from homework assignments.15. I donít concentrate very well when I study for a test.16. I consider myself a scholarly person.17. My friends tend to identify me as a person who is interested in academic work.18. After taking a break from homework, I usually have a lot of trouble getting back into it.19. I feel that I will do well in college.20. I will probably do graduate work after finishing college.

Birth Order and Grade Point Average Scale1. How many siblings do you have?2. What rank are you among your siblings (first, second, etc.)?3. What are your siblingsí genders and ages?4. What is your gender and age?5. What is your grade point average (GPA)? 6. What grade are you in college?


Submitted 12/7/2006 12:40:40 PM
Last Edited 12/7/2006 1:04:49 PM
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