Why Your Oldest Child Is Your Smartest Child

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Parents of multiple children have long admitted that as each additional child comes along, the parenting standards get lower.

Whereas your firstborn may be fed all homemade, organic pureed baby food, the second is getting the store-bought stuff and the third is munching on a bit of whatever everyone else is eating for dinner. It’s just part of the territory that comes with additional beings needing additional care while you still have the same number of hands and hours in a day.

But while you’re letting certain things slide, one standard you may want to try to maintain is the amount of mental stimulation you give to your newest baby. Because — at the risk of my older brother reading this — research published in the Journal of Human Resources has shown that latter-born children score lower on cognitive assessments than their older siblings starting as early as one year old:

Variations in parental behaviour can explain most of the differences in cognitive abilities before school entry. Our findings suggest that broad shifts in parental behaviour from first to latter-born children is a plausible explanation for the observed birth order differences in education and labour market outcomes.

It does make sense. With only one child, you had all the time in the world to read books and talk about colours and letters and animals and all the educational things. And with two kids (or three or more), you’re more likely to be like, “Eh, that’s what school is for.”

Firstborns get the most mental stimulation, according to the research, which is based off the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

The effects are not only documented early but seem to prevail throughout the course of the child’s life, Today.com reports:

Previous studies have found later-born children have lower IQs and make less money compared to their oldest siblings. They were also less likely to graduate from high school and completed fewer years of education. They were more likely to become teenage mums or be convicted of a crime.

The study notes that there are a few other factors at play, including that mothers were less likely to eliminate alcohol intake in subsequent pregnancies, they sought prenatal care later and were less likely to breastfeed.

Of course, the younger sibling does benefit from having an older sibling to learn from, and in return, it’s been shown that younger siblings are credited with teaching empathy to their older counterparts. But when it comes to straight-up mental stimulation, they could use a little more.

So whenever possible, read that extra book, do that puzzle with them or bust out those mentally engaging toys.


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