Horses for courses - why a child’s position in the family influences future career choices

American psychologists have been looking into how a child’s position in the family can affect his or her selected career.

It would appear that first born and only children are more likely to be high achievers, pursuing professions such as law, finance, engineering or medicine. According to Professor Frederick Leong, co-author of the psychologists’ report, their tendency is to head towards ‘cognitive and analytical’ work. Professor Leong puts this down to the fact that parents are more likely to be more over protective towards first born or only children. Examples of famous names demonstrating this principle include Anthony Scrivener QC, Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Heath.

Younger siblings, on the other hand, are more likely to be destined to take up more creatively based or outdoor based occupations, such as landscape gardening, fashion, music and art as exemplified by Oscar Wilde, Yehudi Menuhin and Madonna.

Professor Leong’s overall explanation is that, ‘Parents typically place different demands and have different expectations of children, depending on their birth order. Parents of only children may discourage pursuit of physical or outdoor activities because they are more fearful of physical harm to their child. That may be why only children are more likely to show interest in academic pursuits rather then physical or outdoor activities. And those who are only children will tend to get more time and attention from their parents than children with siblings.’

He goes on to point out how the converse tends to happen in larger families, ‘As they have more children, parents tend to become more open and relaxed, and that may allow younger children to be more risk-taking. If the first born or only child wants to be a poet, that may concern parents. But by the fourth child parents may not mind as much.’

The research was led by Ohio State University and published in the Journal of Career Assessment

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