The next time you find yourself sitting in a pub in the company of a group of medical students, business students, or law students, here’s an easy experiment you can do: Ask the group how many are the oldest children in their family. What you will find is that the number of elder siblings in any group of high-status high-achieving students far exceeds that which would occur by random chance.
What does that mean? Well, I think it means that younger siblings suffer from disparate treatment within the family, and their development is adversely affected by this. In fact, younger siblings have, on average, lower IQs, smaller vocabularies, and in adulthood are significantly less successful in their careers. And while feminists correctly point out that high-status positions of leadership have historically been occupied by men, what is less often mentioned is that these positions have also historically been occupied by first-born children. Consider, for example, Barak Obama and Hilary Clinton. Both differed from past presidential candidates in, respectively, their race and gender. But what they shared in common with almost all past presidents is that neither have older siblings.
What’s interesting is that almost everyone knows this is true. Older siblings are more successful. Yet here’s the rub: Nobody, including younger siblings, thinks this is much of a problem. Despite the fact that being a latter born child is about as good for your development and well-being as attending an impoverished school or supplementing your diet with paint chips.
I believe our culture’s lack of concern about the disparities between first and latter-born children may be an interesting example of how things that are considered problems at one point in history are at other times dismissed out of hand as non-issues. For example, a hundred years ago if you mentioned that it was nearly impossible for women to become doctors, lawyers, or senators, the response would likely have been, “Yes, but what is your point, exactly?” The fact that medical students were overwhelmingly men must have seemed no more remarkable than the fact that they were overwhelmingly first-born children.
You could argue that latter-born children have been silenced. And here’s the thing about people who are silenced: They tend to be silent. Not only because of outside pressure, but because they themselves think their own cause is absurd or undeserving. (That’s one reason I found the old CBS Special Report on Homosexuality – and the self-denigration of the gay men interviewed therein – fascinating to watch.)
It isn’t that I’m seriously advocating affirmative action for younger siblings. (That would be absurd, right?) I just think it’s so easy, in whatever time and place one lives, to think that our culture is the one that get’s things right. And from time to time, it’s a salutary mental exercise to think of the things our culture holds to be non-issues, and to wonder why that is so.