Second Children Are Cursed Trouble-Makers, Says Science


Second children get away with murder, according to popular family mythology, but maybe that’s just because we’re more likely to make trouble in the first place.

Family jokes aside, it seems second-born kids really might be the Black Sheep compared to older siblings. They’re more likely to go to prison, get suspended in school and enter juvenile delinquency.

It’s a trend observed particularly in boys, a new report from MIT economist, Joseph Doyle, notes, suggesting the ‘curse of the second-born child’ might be true, with younger siblings more likely to be trouble-makers and rule-breakers.

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Using rich data sets from Florida and Denmark, Doyle examined whether birth order has any negative impact on the lifestyle of siblings, looking at outcomes like disciplinary problems in school, juvenile delinquency, and adult crime.

The results are ‘remarkably consistent’, and in families with two or more children, second-born boys are 20 to 40 per cent more likely to be disciplined in school and enter the criminal justice system compared to first-born boys.

The evidence even rules out external differences in health at birth and the quality of schools chosen for children.


Doyle told the radio station, NPR:

I find the results to be remarkable that the second-born children, compared to their older siblings, are much more likely to end up in prison, much more likely to get suspended in school, enter juvenile delinquency.


Offering one explanation for his findings, Doyle added:

The firstborn has role models, who are adults. And the second, later-born children have role models who are slightly irrational 2-year-olds, you know, their older siblings.

Both the parental investments are different, and the sibling influences probably contribute to these differences we see in labor market and what we find in delinquency. It’s just very difficult to separate those two things because they happen at the same time.


The paper also found that parental time investment – as measured by time out of the labour force – is higher for first-borns at ages two to four, and suggests second-born kids do not typically get the same level of time commitment during their formative years.

It should be noted, these findings are not representative of individual families and their relationships, but rather reflect a trend.

Brb, I’m off to commit myself to a life of criminal mayhem and blame my parents.