Oct 15

Toastmasters – Project 7 – Pecking Order and Personality

The 7th Toastmasters speech requires you to select a topic, do some research, and present your finding to the group in a clear and concise manner. For this speech I chose to talk about the links between sibling order and personality. I’d been curious about this topic for a while because everything I read seemed to apply perfectly to my siblings and me. It made me wonder about how different personality would be if I were the youngest instead of the oldest. Read my speech below, or read my previous speeches here. To read more about Toastmasters, click here.

                              PECKING ORDER AND PERSONALITY

What do Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey have in common? Both are powerful women, both are overachievers, and both are the oldest child in their families. You might not think Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. have much in common, but not only were both powerful negotiators and communicators (Nixon used his communication skills to smooth relations with Communist China, and MLK used his communication skills to lead the Civil Rights Movement); they were both middle children. And not only have Rosie O’Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg both dished it out on The View, they are both the youngest in their families. By now you’ve probably guessed that the common thread in these stories is birth order. Like it or not, it’s hard to deny that the order in which we were born probably had some effect on our personality.

It’d be ridiculous to stand here and say that we can predict everything about a person simply by knowing his birth order. However, psychologists have found that when they assess the common traits of firstborns vs lastborns, the commonalities are too many to be ignored. Alfred Adler, a colleague of Sigmund Freud, was one of the first scientists to seriously investigate the links between birth order and personality. Since his research in 1927, many others have followed suit and over 2000 studies have been done on the subject.


Quick show of hands – who here is an oldest child? Would you please read this:
The firstborn receives undivided attention from parents until the next child arrives. Firstborns tend to be: serious, conscientious, goal-oriented, rule-conscious, high-achieving, detail-oriented, a leader, determined, conservative, organized, and responsible.

I am the oldest of my siblings and of the three of us, I was the one who consistently got straight-A’s. In school I tended to do as I was told, and my mother has often said that I was the easiest of the three, since I never went through a rebellious teenage stage. I did a double major at NYU in computer science and computer engineering and today I work at the Times as a software engineer. According to CareerBuilder.com, firstborns are more likely to pursue fields that require higher education, such as, medicine, engineering, or law, and are thus more likely to be the higher earners in their families.

One simple explanation for the differences among siblings may fall to Darwin and “survival of the fittest”. Each child uses whatever resources he has at hand to gain favor in the eyes of the parents. The oldest children are often given the responsibility of watching their younger siblings, and thus gain favor with parents that way. But this responsibility also causes the firstborns to become more conservative and to more closely identify with their parent, which may give them a greater respect for parental authority.


Is anyone here a middle child? Please read:
The middle child is often “squeezed” between an ambitious older sibling and a precocious younger one. Many times, he looks for acceptance and recognition among his peers instead of his family. Traits common among middle children are: flexible and adaptable, diplomatic, peacemaker or mediator, generous, outgoing, social, competitive, has strong peer relationships.

If we again go back to Darwin and “survival of the fittest”, middle children, who are not as strong as their older siblings, nor as cute as their younger siblings, quickly learn that forming alliances may be their best bet for keeping out of trouble. Even into adulthood, middle children may still act as the peacekeepers of the family. According to surveys conducted by CareerBuilder.com, middle children tend to go into fields that utilize their negotiating and people skills and often have more job satisfaction than their siblings.

My brother is the middle child in my family, and he is definitely the most likely to throw out a joke in a tense situation. At my suggestion he majored in economics and I had hoped that he would get a secure position at a financial company. But, my brother realized he wouldn’t be happy unless he were directly helping others. Today he is a college counselor for a non-profit organization in the Bronx, he started his own mentoring program aimed at encouraging young Black and Hispanic men to go to college, and he is working on his Masters in guidance counseling.


Would someone who’s a youngest child please read this?
The youngest child frequently gets the most attention from family members. Youngest children love the limelight and are used to sitting in it. They are: charming, creative, affectionate, and sometimes manipulative when they want to get their way.

While researching this topic I came across two possible explanations for why siblings develop these various traits. The first, I’ve mentioned – Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”. Older siblings have already had years to bask in their parents’ affection by the time the younger ones come around. Therefore younger siblings tend to employ more creative methods to get their parents’ attention, and end up relying more on their personality (ie, they find ways to be cute or charming). Jeffrey Kluger, a senior editor at TIME magazine and author of The Sibling Effect, has another explanation that he calls deidentification. This is the process that siblings use to separate themselves from one another and create their own identities. Often if the older one has already excelled in a certain area (academics), the younger one will pursue something else (such as the arts) to avoid comparisons.

In my family, I’ve always been considered, “the smart one”, my brother is, “the outgoing one”, and my sister is, “the odd one” (and by odd, we affectionately mean weird). She has her own sense of style and is not afraid to flaunt it. My brother and I do tend to treat her like a baby sometimes, but she loves the extra attention. Despite the fact that she’s 20 years old, I still find myself sometimes reaching for her hand when we cross the street. Youngest children often gravitate toward artistic and outdoor jobs, and also do very well in journalism, advertising, sales, and athletics. Today my sister is in her third year of her journalism major at Manhattan College.


This is not an exact science and there is no clear formula to explain the effects of birth order on our personalities. For many people the factors I’ve described might not apply to them. There are also special cases, such as when there is a large gap between the first and second child, causing the second child to assume some characteristics of an oldest child. Only children are another special case, and they tend to behave similarly to firstborns, although they tend to be even more ambitious and success-oriented. But whether you’re the oldest or youngest, somewhere in the middle, or an only child, chances are your birth order played some part in shaping your personality. I hope that you’ll think about where you fall in your family and whether your personality fits with these standard descriptions. Look at your kids or other relatives and see if you see common birth order tendencies playing a part in their personalities. Having an understanding of why we are the way we are can go a long way in improving interactions and familial bonds.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with a bit of trivia:
Did you know that Almost all of the U.S. Presidents were either the first-born child or the first-born son in their families AND
Before Daniel Craig, All of the actors who have played James Bond were firstborns.

This speech was a lot of fun because I really enjoyed the topic. The biggest challenge was narrowing down the information to fit within a 5 – 7 minute speech. My speech came out to 7 minutes and 30 seconds exactly. I also incorporated audience participation by having my audience members read the blurbs about the oldest, middle, and youngest child. Overall, I was very happy with this speech. I learned a lot and had fun at the same time.

1 comment

  1. Ezell Burke

    This is the first speech from you that I have seen on paper, Great insight into your method. I should write mine down lol. Thank you for sharing.

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