Will & Kate plus 3: What the new royal baby can tell us about sibling destiny

Sure, you won’t be king, but is not being born first really that bad?

Sure, you won’t be king, but is not being born first really that bad?

(Credit: Getty Images)

With the news of the new royal baby, many are wondering about the dynamics of the now family of five. Prince William and Kate Middleton now have 4-year-old Prince George, soon-to-be-3-year-old Princess Charlotte, and a newborn son. A first born royal is met with a tremendous amount of adulation and circumstance — after all, he or she could be the future King or Queen. Not to say that subsequent siblings are not met with celebration, but certainly the excitement is ever so slightly less intense. One has to wonder how those dynamics form the people these — and all — children will become. Could being (and not being) the first born child really have that great an effect your personality, success and destiny?

Certainly Prince William and Prince Harry seem to demonstrate that common archetype, the first born being the more level-headed and mature, with the second born often seen as the more mischievous, rebellious and relaxed one. But will such trends continue for the new regal trio? And what do those often-heard myths mean for families who don't wear any crowns — does birth order really affect one's life?

U.S. Presidents and early astronauts are overwhelmingly first born children, which only seems to lend credence to the theory; these facts are pure happenstance and don't really make a convincing connection. But more recent research, aimed at finding a more meaningful connection, has shed new light on interesting birth order trends. A 2015 study collected data on over 20,000 participants in the U.S., UK and Germany, only involving families that contained two and three siblings (excluding twins). After running personality tests, the researchers found no correlation between traits like extraversion, emotional stability and agreeableness and birthing order. However, the same study found a noticeably stronger link between birth order and intelligence; the first born child was often the most intelligent, a trend that decreased with each subsequent child. The purported theory here was that with the first born child parents have more resources and greater interest in how they raise the child, better priming them for success in the world and affording them the ability to attain greater overall intelligence. Furthermore, the study showed that this trend was consistent in self-reported levels of intelligence too, meaning each child was aware of, and had internalized, their respective levels of intelligence.

While intelligence does not necessarily equal success, not being the first born has been shown to potentially have some tangibly negative consequences too. A 2017 paper examined data from both Denmark and Florida to find that while second born children seem no less healthy, nor do they attend worse schools, compared to the first born children, second born siblings are more likely to have been suspended from school, spent time dealing with the juvenile justice system, been involved in violent crimes and, in Denmark only, are more likely to have spent time in prison before the age of 21. Again, researchers examined differences in parenting dynamics and the most significant statistic they found was that mothers seem to return to work earlier with their second born (before they are 4-years-old) than with their first born. Surely this statistic cannot account for all the trends, but it illuminates the different potential upbringing dynamics a child can face.

Each child enters their family at a different stage, under their own unique circumstances, not to mention differences in areas like gender, economic status, living arrangements and lifestyle. To borrow a concept from Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point; social cause and effect is not necessarily one-to-one ("My life turned out this way because my mother went back to work before I was four."), but the culmination of a number of factors, personal influences and potential outcomes that meld together to cause similar behaviours in a great number of people serve as a possible explanation for the creation of stigmas and archetypal behaviours around first, second and third-born children.

So, what about Charlotte? While Prince George will always be the first born, she is now no longer the baby of the family; the dynamic of her upbringing and identification has significantly changed, and it's not hard to see why the "middle child syndrome" is possible. Dr. Kevin Leman examined these archetypes in the best-selling The Birth Order Book: Why You Are The Way You Are, in which he characterized patterns he found in his studies of birth orders. The first born (also applicable to an only child, even more so), can be seen as perfectionist leaders, often aggressively seeking approval from those above them. The middle born can reflect opposite traits from what they see in the first born, as well as developing secretive tendencies, as well as feeling ignored in favour of the new baby, though they have the ability to mediate between the oldest and youngest siblings. The third born is seen as extroverted and charming but financially reckless, with the ability to get away with anything. While these child types are somewhat controversial given the complexity of evolving family dynamics and conflicting studies, they are still concepts that many people subscribe and attest to, believing they should be aware of and "parented around" during the upbringing process.

So will Prince George be a perfectionist, with the new baby being financially irresponsible, leaving Princess Charlotte to seek peace between the two? Maybe, maybe not. But as we watch these majestic lives unfold in front of us, as different as they are, there's sure to be some sibling moments and behaviours we know all too well.