The Oldest Child Is Smarter…So Says the Research

For nearly a century, child development experts have pondered just how much parents matter in how their kids turn out. Fresh new research hit the AP wires and the “nature vs. nurture” debate may finally be put to rest. And the findings are profound: Firstborn sons have higher IQs than their younger brothers because of how they are raised. Wow! It seems they finally figured out that parents do make a difference after all!! Here are some of the most interesting results, and how you can use them with your own children.

The study came from Norway lead by a psychologist, Petter Kristensen. Over the past decade Kristensen and a group of researchers meticulously analyzed IQ scores of 250,000 men. All the men took the IQ test when they were 18 or 19 years old and were required to do as draftees entering the Norwegian army. When the results found that the oldest child is smarter than next oldest sibling by an average of 2.3 points, who is turn beat the third-born brother by 1.1 points. If the eldest child dies, the second sibling becomes the smartest one. That means it’s not just the birth order that’s boosting those IQ points but the dynamics in the family and how the first born kid is treated. By the way, though no women were involved in the study, the researchers contend that the same results would happen for women.

While 2.3 points may seem measly, in today’s test-crazed society they can be just enough to give a child an academic edge. Those two points could be the difference between earning the grade of a B+ or an A; going to a state school or a university; or entry into a special educational program. Many schools these days require IQ test and a score of 132 in order for a child to get into their gifted program. A two point lower score could mean the cut-off to entry.

So the real question is: How are parenting our eldest children differently that’s giving them those added IQ points? That’s the best part. The parenting strategies are simple and doable. Here are four take-away tips from this important Norwegian study that you can use with your children.

1.    Talk to your child. (And talk and talk and talk). One of the strongest correlations to IQ is a strong verbal ability. The best way to nurture your child’s verbal skills is by just plain talking and talking and talking to them. Researchers say we do that far more with the first child.

2.    Focus on your child. Researchers contend that eldest children generally have higher self-esteem. They have stronger confidence and some of that is because they spend more uninterrupted time with us. There isn’t another sibling to compete with.

3.    Treat your child as capable. We give our elder kids more responsibilities and we just plain expect more of them at a younger age. How you are treated does become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Almost all American presidents and the first astronauts were the first born. First born kids are more likely to be leaders. In fact, a study just these week confirmed that first borns are also more likely to become C.E.O.s. Let’s just not forget our second, third and fourth …… kids. (Right?)

4.    Let your child tutor his younger sibling.
The eldest child has another benefit: he has a younger sibling to help. “Can you teach your brother how to read?” “Will you show your sister how to turn on the computer?” Teaching someone a skill not only helps the tutored but also helps the tutor. In fact, in many cases, the oldest child gains the most (IQ wise anyway) from teaching his younger brother.

The bottom line in all this is that parents are their children’s best IQ boosters. So put down those flash cards and unplug those brainy baby tapes. You do make a difference in how your child turns out.

Now if we could just figure out a way to redefine success so we don’t get so crazed thinking it’s all about IQ. In the real world research shows that IQ doesn’t make much of a difference on achieving success. What does matter: perseverance, confidence and goal-setting.


Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an educational psychologist, former teacher, and mom who is recognized for offering research-driven advice culled from a career of working with over one million parents, educators, and children. A frequent Today show contributor she also appears on Dr. Phil, The View, CNN American Morning, and The Early Show, Michele is the author of 22 books including her latest release, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. Visit her daily blog on www.micheleborba.com or follow her on twitter.com/micheleborba.

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One Response to The Oldest Child Is Smarter…So Says the Research

  1. nate on January 17, 2011 at 12:20 am

    The results of this study may indicate somewhat of a general correlation to birth order and IQ, however they are not without exception.  I am the second born and my older brother has always performed better academically as well as on SAT/ACT. However, our third brother has always been quicker thinking and more clever than both of us, especially when it comes to puzzles, word games, etc.  It is also known that some people are mentally more geared to test taking and naturally perform better than others, suggesting that different styles of thinking can influence a person’s performance on an aptitude or IQ test.

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