Birth order theory of entrepreneurship


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.


Robinson, P. B., and Keith Hunt, H. (1992). Entrepreneurship and birth order: Fact or folklore. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 4(3), 287-298.

Hisrich, R. D., and Brush, C. G. (1983). The woman entrepreneur: Implications of family, educational, and occupational experience. Frontiers of entrepreneurship research, 255-270.

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).


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1 comment for this post
  1. Ray H

    Theodor Vladasel recognizes that family background matters for entrepreneurship, and conducted a study that assessed birth order, family size, and sibling sex composition effects in entrepreneurship. His research reflects the findings of Robinson and Hunt, in that later born men are more likely to become unincorporated entrepreneurs. The reason is slightly different, attributing this effect to their lower education and poorer labor market prospects, pointing towards the subsistence nature of this type of entrepreneurship. It is unclear if this is unique to the sample set or common in Sweden, where the research was conducted. In addition, the research found that family size and sibling sex composition effects had negligible effects, though children with more than four siblings are less likely to become incorporated business owners. Similar to existing research, the results are not strong enough for conclusive evidence of the importance of family background for entrepreneurship.

    Vladasel, T. (2018). Same, but Different?: Birth Order, Family Size, and Sibling Sex Composition Effects in Entrepreneurship. Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI), Working Paper 8/2018. Retrieved from

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