Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

first-born-child

(Photo: Sasilssolutions/Shutterstock)

First-Born Children Are More Likely to Grow Up Into Conservatives

• May 20, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: Sasilssolutions/Shutterstock)

New research from Italy suggests the effect is independent of the ideology of one’s parents.

Given how strongly we tend to feel about our political beliefs, it’s somewhat disconcerting to think that they developed largely as a result of circumstances beyond our control.

Yet that’s the conclusion of a growing number of researchers, who have traced ideological predispositions to various personality traits and evolutionary needs. One idea, first raised in the 1990s, is that first-born children grow up to be more conservative, on average, than their siblings.

Newly published research from Italy confirms that thesis, and finds it is not related to the political beliefs of one’s parents. It suggests the first-born child is more likely to lean to the right regardless of his parents’ beliefs.

The sense of privilege that comes from being the subject of singular adoration sometimes steers one in a conservative direction.

“First-borns tend to favor the political and social status quo,” writes a research team led by Daniela Barni of the Catholic University of Milan. Its study is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

The researchers looked at 96 Italian families, each of which consisted of a mother, father, and at least two children. Both parents and the first- and second-born children filled out a questionnaire designed to measure their level of agreement with conservative values.

They found that “birth order indeed fostered children’s conservatism directly.” However—contrary to earlier theories—they also noted that, “in our research, parents’ conservatism was not related to their offspring’s conservatism.”

“Children’s conservatism seems thus to depend on the dominance hierarchy in the sibling relationship,” the researchers conclude. While this dynamic can be explained by both Freudian and evolutionary theories, the simplest explanation is that the sense of privilege that comes from being the subject of singular adoration sometimes steers one in a conservative direction.

Barni and her colleagues are quick to note that a variety of influences create one’s ideological make-up; birth order is only one. But the dynamic is strong enough to have an impact on U.S. Supreme Court decisions, according to a fascinating 2012 study.

In any event, it’s intriguing to think that, if you and your sibling had switched places in birth order, you’d still be arguing about politics—only you might very well be taking the opposite positions.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


September 26 • 6:00 AM

Sounds Like the Blues

At a music-licensing firm, any situation can become nostalgic, romantic, or adventurous, given the right background sounds.


September 26 • 5:00 AM

The Dark Side of Empathy

New research finds the much-lauded feeling of identification with another person’s emotions can lead to unwarranted aggressive behavior.



September 25 • 4:00 PM

Forging a New Path: Working to Build the Perfect Wildlife Corridor

When it comes to designing wildlife corridors, our most brilliant analytical minds are still no match for Mother Nature. But we’re getting there.


September 25 • 2:00 PM

Fashion as a Inescapable Institution

Like it or not, fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.


September 25 • 12:00 PM

The Fake Birth Mothers Who Bilk Couples Out of Their Cash by Promising Future Babies

Another group that’s especially vulnerable to scams and fraud is that made up of those who are desperate to adopt a child.


September 25 • 10:03 AM

The Way We QuickType


September 25 • 10:00 AM

There’s a Name for Why You Feel Obligated to Upgrade All of Your Furniture to Match

And it’s called the Diderot effect.


September 25 • 9:19 AM

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.


September 25 • 9:05 AM

Sponsors: Coming to a Sports Jersey Near You

And really, it’s not that big of a deal.


September 25 • 8:00 AM

The Most Pointless Ferry in Maryland

Most of the some 200 ferries that operate in the United States serve a specific, essential purpose—but not the one that runs across the Tred Avon River.


Follow us


Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

Would You Rather Go Blind or Lose Your Mind?

Americans consistently fear blindness, but how they compare it to other ailments varies across racial lines.

On the Hunt for Fake Facebook Likes

A new study finds ways to uncover Facebook Like farms.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.