Birth order theory is the construction of 1950’s psychoanalysts (think Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler) who posited that when (the timing) an individual is born, in relation to the birth of siblings, shapes experiences and personalities. Birth order is laden with so much cultural meaning both within families and in societies in general, that it guides psychological development.
Robinson and Hunt quote Rychlak’ (1981:145) summary the typical logic behind birth order theories as follows:
“In a multiple-child family, the firstborn child not only becomes a great believer in power, but as an adult he or she is more likely than other children in the home to have a conservative, conforming outlook, to be a ‘regular citizen’ and a conventional individual. The second-born child is likely to feel a sense of challenge in the family constellation. . . If a second-born child has any talent, we are more likely to see this offspring develop it than the others because of the child’s probable life style of trying to excel in some way… In any case, we expect to see a lot of drive in the second-born and less authority-proneness than in the firstborn child. The reckless kid brother, who is willing to ‘take any dare’ and likes to break the rules, nicely meets the picture of a second-born child.”
The birth order theory of entrepreneurship has persisted despite criticisms (Hirsric and Brush, 1983; Robinson and Hunt, 1992; Watkins and Watkins, 1983).
- No empirical support for the theory once family income and size are considered.
- Since different cultures give different meanings to birth order, the theory is unlikely to predict anything cross-culturally.
- A birth order theories of entrepreneurship is useless for helping entrepreneurship educators and practitioners. It is actually nothing but discouraging, as individuals have no control over their birth order.
Watkins, J. M., and Watkins, D. S. (1983). The female entrepreneur: Her background and determinants of business choice-some British data. Frontiers of entrepreneurship research, 271-288.
Rychlak, J. F. 1981, Introduction to Personality and Psychotherapy: A Theory-Construction Approach, 2nd edition (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company).