Atlantic Economic Journal

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 463–476 | Cite as

The Effect of Birth Order on Occupational Choice

  • Alice GrinbergEmail author


Research suggests that birth order has a profound influence on personality development, but there has been little research investigating the effect of birth order on a person’s occupational choice. A number of psychologists, including Frank Sulloway and Reid Claxton, argue that first-borns are more likely to become managers because their order in the family trains them in managerial and leadership skills. In contrast, several economists, such as Gary Becker, argue that first-borns are often economically successful because they receive more resources from their parents than other children. This occurs both because they tend to have fewer siblings and because they receive their parents’ unshared attention before their younger siblings are born. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) of 1979, we investigate which of these models best accords with the data. We find that first-borns are indeed more likely to select managerial positions than later-borns, but that this effect is due to first-borns having, on average, fewer siblings than others, not to being first-born per se. Further, we find the effect of family size is strongest among lower-income families, lending support to Becker’s hypothesis.


Birth order Managerial position Family size IQ 


I00 L10 L60 


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Copyright information

© International Atlantic Economic Society 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pace UniversityNew YorkUSA

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