Researched Works

Education in the Philippines: The Link Between Birth Order and Academic Performance

Many Filipinos view education as a valuable asset. The Philippine government considers it as one of its essential social services. According to Rosado (2000), “True education is the harmonious development of the physical, mental, moral (spiritual), and social faculties, the four dimensions of life, for a life of dedicated service” (p. 5). Through education, people gain knowledge, become literate, and acquire skills that they can be used to find a job or to start a business or non-profit agency. Thus, education essentially involves the processes of learning, understanding, and doing.

The ability to learn is often associated with a person’s intelligence. Learning is usually defined as “any relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a result of experience” (Robbins, 1998 in Chowdhury, 2006). On the other hand, Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind (1983) explains that “Intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products that are valued within one or more cultural settings.” Without intellectual faculties and the learning process, education could be hampered and unable to help a person to fully realize her/his potentials.

Although education can also be attained by joining community and church activities, as well as by spending time with peers and by using technology like broadcast and online media, the school—next to family—serves as the institution that upholds and promotes education. It is described as the “second home” for both learners and educators. It adopts scientific measurements to gauge a student’s ability to learn different subjects, as well as to determine her/his other inclinations.

Dipak Naker’s What is a Good School? (2007) prescribes that the school should respond to a child’s developmental needs in three areas: cognitive, social, and ethical (p. 8). This means that the student should be equipped with the ‘ability to analyse and process information efficiently’. Aside from this, the school should enable its learners to have ‘self-confidence and ability to trust their own judgments…to feel accepted and valued…to related with others responsibly’. Lastly, the school promotes ‘clear ethical standards…helps students internalise a lifelong value system’.

The connection between individual learners and the school environment become more apparent with the academic performance of each student. Academic performance is often represented by periodical grading reports that indicate a learner’s progress in different subjects, as well as his/her behaviors and dealings with others.

Motivation, teaching quality, and social integration are some of the factors that affect academic performance, particularly the persistence or commitment to attend and to graduate from school (Taafe and Cunningham, 2005; Neisser, 1995). Some researchers suggest that a person’s intelligence and school performance have biological and environmental bases, particularly genetics, nutrition, and home life (University of Manchester, 2011; Association for Psychological Science, 2010; Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, 2007; Blume and Zembar, 2007; Reynolds and Fletcher-Janzen, 2000; Neisser, 1995; Murray and Herrnstein, 1994; Beckwith, 1983). However, as Kaufman (2011) suggests – ‘…intelligence was never, and will never, be fixed at birth…Every child enters the testing session for a reason, and every child has his or her own unique constellation of traits and life experiences. The key is…to discover as much as possible about that child in order to help him or her flourish’.

In addition, there are studies that examined birth order as a factor of intelligence and academic performance. Alfred Adler’s theory highlights how birth order can influence a person’s behavior. Dailey (2006) explains: ‘Birth order can affect many aspects of an individual’s life…’ These include personality, self-esteem, and cognitive achievement. Francis Galton’s English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture (1874) cites that firstborn sons have the advantage with regard to financial resources, ‘treated more as companions by parents’, and receive more interest and nourishment compared to their siblings. Esping (2003), however, contends that intelligence is not the primary reason for success, whether in school or wherever else. She agrees with those who claim that ‘conscientiousness and openness to experience are up to 10 times more important’ to achieve excellence.

Birth Order and Human Personality - Alfred Adler's Theory

Alfred Adler believed that birth order has a huge impact on human personality. He identified three factors that affect children and their behaviors: (1) the circumstances of their position in the family, (2) how each child interprets or assesses her/his situation, and (3) the resulting action based on such interpretation.

To further illustrate Adler’s views, a first-born child is usually accorded much attention compared to younger brother(s) and/or sister(s). However, the presence of siblings may cause a firstborn to feel either insecure or helpful. Adler advised:

If the parents have allowed the first-born to feel sure of their affection, if he knows that his position is secure, and above all, if he is prepared for the arrival of the younger child and has been trained to cooperate in its care, the crisis will pass without ill effects.

The second or middle child competes with firstborns for parental attention and affection. The struggle could end up either futile or successful. On the other hand, the youngest or last child is considered as the “baby” who wins the fondness of other members of the family. This baby may also struggle like the second child, aiming to surpass the achievements of older siblings.

Adler added that proximity of siblings in terms of year gaps also influences the development of the child’s personality. He noted that firstborns could turn out to be maladjusted individual if they are closely followed by the youngest child.

For the only child, Adler observed that mothers tend to be over protective and attentive. The child could also feel competitive towards one of the parents. During adulthood, the only child might find it difficult to handle changes in relationships, especially when the parents have to deal with other concerns.

Adler's Birth Order Theory and School Performance

Following Adler’s theory, the firstborns might end up as achievers in school or often get good grades to secure their position as the eldest among the children in the household. It is also possible that firstborns who are ‘secure’ – as Adler said – could disengage from any form of sibling rivalry. In contrast, the insecure ones could end up as students with low grades.

On the other hand, middle-born and youngest kids could behave either as achievers, as average students, unmindful of the competition just like secure firstborns, or low performing students who use dismal academic grades as a way to get the attention of their parents and/or other members of the family. “Only” children could either end up as achievers, with classmates serving as the subject of competition instead of their parents, or as kids with an average school performance.

The possibility of sibling alliances with regard to school achievement could also emerge as an outcome of academic competition. This could happen when a child born in a particular order helps or tutors her/his brother(s) and/or sister(s) achieve good grades in school.

Moreover, birth order could also influence other areas related to academic performance. These include study habits and academic issues perceived by the students. The achievers among firstborns, middle-born, and the youngest could be spending more time doing their homework than engaging in outdoor and extra-curricular activities like sports, music, or other hobbies. They also have less or zero absences, the school orders suspension of classes. In contrast, those who are not performing well in school are spending more time doing non-academic work and acquired many absences.

With regard to academic problems or issues, eldest, second, and last-born kids who have succeeded in getting good school rating may view heavy academic assignments and examination results as a problem compared to those who are not worried about their school performance.

In addition, the subject grades and/or final average rating and behavioral remarks of class advisers of these students may reflect the academic inclination and personality of the students in relation to their birth order.

Possible Effects of Birth Order on a Student's Academic Performance

Following Adler’s theory, the family ranking or birth order of a student has an impact on her/his: (1) attitudes, behaviors and perspectives about a certain situation — in this case, going to school and pursuing education; (2) study habits; and (3) perceived academic barriers and issues. These factors are further affected by the circumstances within the family in relation to one’s birth order.

The circumstances involved include perceived treatment of parents and other members of the household or what the student thinks about the kind of treatment she/he receives from people at home due to birth order. Aside from this, the student may also have an idea of what the family expects from her/him based on birth order, whether or not she/he has been informed about these expectations. Collectively, these factors affect the student’s academic performance.

A student’s school achievement can be measured or examined through her/his attendance, final average grade obtained in the previous school year, and the class adviser’s assessment and remarks about her/his behavior during the previous school year. Using such data, the researchers will proceed to determine if a student’s high, average, or low academic performance will affect circumstances at home that may influence the student’s personality, study habits, and perceived challenges and issues related to school or academic performance. How a student reacts to these situations may have a bearing on her/his decision to study and finish high school (and perhaps, whether or not she/he wants to pursue and earn a college degree).

Except for the birth order which has a distinct line frame to signify its defined biological basis or sequence, the other elements of the study have either dash or dotted lines to denote dynamism or the changing nature of attitudes, behaviors, perspectives, motivations, circumstances and academic performance.

Studies on Birth Order

Amber Spring’s “Does Birth Order Affect Intelligence?” (2003) enumerated several studies about birth order. One was English Men of Science (1874) by Francis Galton which tackled the advantages of firstborns compared to younger siblings when it comes to available resources and achieving distinction. Lilian Belmont and Francis Marolla’s study on family size, birth order and intelligence test was also cited. Findings of their research included: (1) the poor performance of kids coming from large families; (2) eldest children had better scores on intelligence tests than their siblings; and (3) intelligence test results tend to go lower as family size got bigger. The same findings were observed by Zajonc’s “Family configuration and intelligence” in 1976.

Spring (2003) furthermore noted that many longitudinal researches studies have found out ‘that there is no relationship between birth order and IQ’. Also worth mentioning is that big families have ‘the tendency…to produce lower IQ children’. The study done by Page and Grandon (1979) offered an ‘admixture hypothesis’, which pertains to other factors such as the IQ of parents and socio-economic conditions that could be the reasons behind the link between large families and low IQ.

Aside from Adler’s theory, Blake’s “Family Size and the Quality of Children” (1986) suggested the Resource Dilution Model (RDM). This model points out the critical role parental resources play in providing for the needs of their families and how these are linked the capacity of many eldest children to go to college and/or become popular.

In addition, studies by Zajonc and Markus in 1975 recognized the positive impact of ‘ever-changing intellectual environment’ on the IQ of firstborns. They explained that:

Moreover, “Birth Order and Its Effect on Motivation and Academic Achievement” (2006) by Koren M. Dailey stated that birth order has minimal influence on educational motivation and achievement. However, research by Baer and colleagues (2005) gave a finding akin to that of Gaston’s (1874) which highlighted the advantage of eldest children both in terms of academic motivation and creativity. Guastello and Guastello (2002) also concluded that such urge for educational achievement was also observed among children with no siblings. These two birth groups were also found ‘to take more internal responsibility for their actions’ because the firstborns are often assigned to look after other kids when parents are not around, while only children ‘had no one else to blame things on’ and are also less sociable (Falbo 1981, in Guastello and Guastello 2002).

Similarly, Steelman and Powell’s study (1985) suggested the influence of birth order on social skills like popularity and getting along with others. With regard to gender, said researchers noted how a man’s birth order could influence his leadership abilities. They also stressed no significant relationship between birth order and academic performance. Analogous to this finding is Sun Ha and Lian Tam's 2011 study on birth order, academic performance, and personality which saw no significant correlation between the first two. They noticed, however, that extraversion could be a factor of academic performance.

In contrast, a recent study Onabarniro, Ositoye, and Adeyemi (2010) observed otherwise based on the variances between eldest kids and younger children in terms of academic achievement. This is corroborated by “Birth Order and Educational Achievement in Adolescence and Young Adulthood”, an article on Australian Journal of Education (2006), which indicated a significant relationship between later-born adolescents and low academic performance.

Unlike in other countries where studies on birth order and academic performance are quite many, Philippine-based researches on this particular topic are scarce. Although not necessarily about birth order, “Correlates of Career Decisions Among Children of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)” (2010) by Catherine Espero reported that birth order has no bearing on the career decisions of the adolescent kids of OFWs. However, she identified academic achievement as a vital factor in choosing what course to take in college.


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Written by Leann Zarah (

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