Affirmative action for younger siblings.

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.

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7 Responses to Affirmative action for younger siblings.

  1. Darque says:

    I think this post kind of implicitly asks the question “At what point do we draw the line in levelling playing fields for different disadvantaged groups of humanity, if at all?”

    In other words, at which point do we see the plight of a certain disadvantaged group relevant or irrelevant?

    I think this sentence says it all: “It isn’t that I’m seriously advocating affirmative action for younger siblings. (That would be absurd, right?) ”

    I’ve been kind of struggling with it and processing it. I also know it sounds absurd. But from a standpoint of “social justice” as so many like to put it, it sounds wrong to also dismiss the plight of a group out of hand simply because it sounds absurd.

    Does this mean that we need affirmative action for younger siblings, or does it mean that we need to take a better look at the idea of affirmative action in general? I’m not sure. Personally I think the latter is true. But if the former is, it raises another set of interesting questions. At the very least, it would force us to question a few characteristics that people see as a “legitimate” source of success – intelligence, athletic ability, even that elusive characteristic “hardworking” which could simply be a complicated mix of physical health, mental stability, and fortunate factors of a good upbringing.

    That little thought exercise aside, I think that your post is also stabbing at something else I’ve noticed recently. On Hugo Schwyzer’s recent response to your post on sexual entitlement I noticed a thought – or at least the undercurrent of a thought – that seemed to imply that involuntary celibates were utlimately responsible for their own sexual fulfillment and as a consequence, happiness. I thought about this for a bit and found myself agreeing with it. Yet, reading this I thought back to his post. I thought back to how those words were a way of saying “Hey, I feel your pain… but…” and pushing the responsability of a person’s misfortune back onto them. This is something that Mr. Schywzer wouldn’t dream of doing to other people, but because he chose to draw his “line” somewhere, he chose to exclude involuntary celibates. Just like how most people would exclude younger siblings from any subject of affirmative action.

    Anyway, we could go further into realms of talking about meaty subjects such as self-determination, blame, and the power of the individual vs the environment but I fear that doing so would probably be too much to tackle in one comment. I think its a good idea to stop while ahead.

  2. Marle says:

    I have never heard that younger siblings do worse than older siblings. Maybe that’s because I don’t hang around high-status, high achieving people, but this just sounds bizarre to me. Maybe you could have included links to some statistics, because I can’t be the only person who’s never heard this.

  3. Politicalguineapig says:

    Oh, please. Younger siblings are spoiled rotten. The eldest sibs are simply pushed harder and that’s why they’re ‘higher achievers.’

  4. Darque says:

    Marle, here’s something I found with a simple web search. You might want to look into it more (since I haven’t looked at it extensively) to see if you agree with the methodology. I hope there’s enough information here to let you find more on this study:

    Younger siblings do less well at school and earn lower salaries in later life than their older brothers and sisters.

    The size of a family has little effect on how well children perform in class, a major study from the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration found.

    But the eldest child is typically more successful at school and in their career, the study found. The researchers suggested that older children could benefit from acting as a teacher for their younger siblings, learning how to present information it to others.

    Professor Kjell Salvanes, working with academics from University of California, Los analysed the entire population of Norway who were aged 16-74 at some point between 1986 and 2000.

    The study was presented at the 2005 World Congress of the Econometric at University College London “UCL” Prof Salvanes said: “There could be different types of expectations from the parents and if resources are limited the parents may invest more time and money in the eldest child

  5. Hugh Ristik says:

    The post speaks to a generally phenomenon where plenty of groups are in a rotten situation, which may include or stem from institutionalized discrimination, but only some of the groups get the official leftist/feminist stamp of approval as “oppressed.” Other examples of groups that fit the bill but aren’t officially considered oppressed:

    – Introverts (many social outlets arbitrarily privilege extraverts)
    – People with stuttering, or other speech difficulties
    – Shy people
    – People with high sensitivity
    – People who aren’t conventionally attractive (this one is getting more recognition)
    – Short people (at least, when male)
    – Left-handed people
    – Involuntarily celibate people (who aren’t oppressed by people who are rejecting, but who are often involuntarily celibate because of being oppressed/abused/misled by other members of society)
    – Intelligent people (at least, in American school systems… see the whole hateful elements of “nerd” and “geek”)

    Then there are some groups that are sometimes discussed as oppressed:
    – Trans people
    – People on the autistic spectrum, or with Asperger’s Syndrome

    Though I’ve grown up only hearing about how horrible the Officially Oppressed(TM) groups have it, I’ve seen plenty of crap happen to people in the groups on this list which seemed just as damaging to quality-of-life. The only difference was that this crap was never considered to be official Discrimination(TM), so unlike the Officially Oppressed groups, the victims received no support or recognition.

  6. Darque says:

    Hugh, I’m going to agree with you but with a caveat. I do think that some of the left and some of the feminist movement are hypocrites. However, I do think that the right (in an American context) are worse when it comes to overall jerk behavior and hypocrisy.

    But really, why should I qualify what the left sometimes does with a “but the right are worse!” That’s a bullshit and hollow argument. Bad behavior should be criticized no matter what end of the political spectrum it finds itself on. I’ve done my fair share of criticizing the right, so I feel like I deserve the right to now (with my caveat out of the way) criticize the left.

    I think the main problem that one begins to see politically is an inability to sympathize. I say sympathize because I believe that the empathy that people exhibit when someone of similar circumstances is suffering, is fundamentally different from the ability for other people to sympathize with someone who is different.

    Men make up a very small portion of the feminist movement. So for many in that movement, men are the “other”. Empathy with men is at a minimum. Issues that effect men aren’t discussed as much as they should be. A lot of the time they are assumed to be the purview of the MRA’s. I think the undercurrent in the community is that men have it better as a whole, so discussing stuff that effects men is just not as important. This isn’t exactly on point with what you said above, but I think it is related closely enough to be worth mentioning.

    Also, in the case of the groups you’ve mentioned, I think the reasons that some of them aren’t seen as “official” varies. Shy people and introverts, if I had to guess, “deserve” it because people think that their shyness and introversion is a choice. If they would only just get out and meet more people they’d be happier. If the involuntary celibate would just get the nerve to talk to more women, he’d get laid. They could have done something to help their condition, so their condition is dismissed out of hand. Kind of like how the poor person is ridiculed for not “getting a job”.

    This all comes about from a lack of sympathy. People laugh at other people for bringing problems different from their own to the table. People demand that their problems be heard alongside others. People scrabble for what little piece of the spotlight they can get, all the while edging others into the darkness. Feminism can be bright, but there is definitely an ugliness to it if one cares to look.

    You know what I’d kinda like to see? A movement for equality that has as many women as men, a rainbow of people from different walks of life – old and poor, young and rich, white and black, gay and straight, democrat and republican, religious and atheist. I’d like to see a movement that tables anger in favor of enthusiasm, encouragement, common humanity. I’d like to see people willing to let their defenses down more, to accept other points of view more.

    Feminism in the ideal is this movement. Feminism in reality, isn’t this movement. There are too few men in the movement for it to approach that ideal (as it currently stands).

  7. TrollKING says:

    Hmmm. I am not sure I believe this at all. It may come from statistics and I may be using too small of a sample size but from what I have seen with all my friends this simply isn’t true. If anything it’s the opposite. Of all the poeple I have known the older siblings tend to be fuck ups that the younger ones learn mistakes from without having to make them themselves. My brother is a good example. I am a HS dropout and he is now finishing his grad degree in physics. The same pattern holds with all his friends and mine too. Or then again maybe I just haven’t made my millions yet???

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