I recently listen to a lecture by Professor Sohail Rashid from the Psychology Department at Ryerson University, on Alfred Adler's theories on how birth order affects personality.

Audio of lecture

Video of lecture

Despite this lecture being a finalist in the TVO Best Lecturer 2010 competition, he made a number of (what sounded, to my ears, like) highly dubious claims, with ad hoc explanations and celebrity anecdotes with no supporting evidence.

Wikipedia explains that:

Adler never produced any scientific support for his interpretations on birth order roles.

That doesn't mean that psychology hasn't found some scientific evidence to support some of the ideas in the meantime - and I would like to think they have, before they would be presented as true by a professor in a psych class.

Rather than ask an open question like "Are Adler's theories true?" I have decided to pick one particular claim and ask about it.

The Question

Rashid claims that first born children (in a family of more than one child) are more likely as adults to purchase insurance. Is this true?

(The given reasons provided are irrelevant if the claim is not true, but are based on the early experience of the loss of attention when the second child is born.)

  • I guess compared with not-first-born but from your last paragraph compared with last-born, since a second-born experiences a loss of attention as well, and maybe more early than the first born, if the third-born arrives when they are 2, but they arrived, when the first-born was 4. More early of course subjectively. – user unknown Aug 17 '11 at 18:48
  • Took me a couple of reads of that to understand, @user. Are you saying I should explicitly state who first-borns are more likely to buy insurance than? My interpretation of Rashid was it was more than all others, including middle-borns, last-borns, only children and twins. I think that is implicit in the statement that I mean "more than others, who are not first born". My position at the moment is that the reasoning provided seems unfalsifiable, so I am ignoring that for now to see if the result itself is true. If not, the reasoning is irrelevant. – Oddthinking Aug 18 '11 at 2:15
  • Yes, for a comparison, you compare something with something else. Often, a first, obvious answer, to what it is compared is not so obvious on a second thought. I know, that this pages aren't for original research and too critical thinking, but ... when the second child is born raises even more questions: Were only families with 2 childs inspected? I would call a single child a first born too, but from the study, if all first-borns experienced a loss of attention, that doesn't fit. – user unknown Aug 18 '11 at 5:07

From http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2009/10/02/104224.htm:

Dr. Melayne McInnes, an associate professor in economics, and her student, Erica Morgan, found that first-born siblings tend to be more risk-averse and more patient in making monetary decisions. Conversely, last-born siblings tend to be bigger risk takers, willing to gamble for a higher payoff and less willing to wait unless the rate of return was much higher.


To test the hypothesis, McInnes and Morgan devised different scenarios that offered participants the possibility of larger payoffs with higher risk, smaller payoffs with lower risk, larger payoffs with a longer time delay and smaller payoffs with a shorter time delay. The kicker: They used real money, provided through a National Science Foundation grant.


“What we found is that older siblings were more averse to risk and more willing to wait to receive a higher payout,” Morgan said. “First-born siblings required more compensation if they were going to assume more risk, and younger siblings had to be offered a higher rate of return for them to be willing to wait for a payout.”

Now, the above does not exactly measure the rate of insurance purchases but the fundamentals of insurance purchasing are well matched by "averse to risk and more willing to wait to receive a higher payout" characteristics. BUT, to make this a bit more scientific:

"Journal of Risk and Insurance: An international analysis of life insurance demand" by Mark J. Browne, Kihong Kim | Dec, 1993

|f*.sub.i~ = |(1/L).sup.1/|Delta~~ |C*.sub.i~. (2)

Equation (2) states that for any one child the optimal level of life insurance on the wage earner is inversely related to the life insurance loading fee and directly related to the child's degree of risk aversion and the present value of consumption of the child if the wage earner survives until the child is mature.


Lite insurance consumption also increases with the family's degree of risk aversion.

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  • Quite an interesting answer. Out of curiosity, did you happen to find any data comparing first-born children to those without siblings? – Monkey Tuesday Aug 18 '11 at 1:49
  • @Monkey - I found some first-pages (with the rest behind paywalls) that I couldn't make heads of tails out of without the rest of the article but that might have contained first-born with only-born. – user5341 Aug 18 '11 at 2:20
  • Thanks, I've been following your links and kind of got the same results, so I figured I'd ask. – Monkey Tuesday Aug 18 '11 at 2:48

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