Birth Order and Intelligence

Much research has been revolving around this question. Debates on the relationship between birth order and intelligence are surrounded by ambiguity and controversies. Some believe that the older sibling has the upper hand; while others deem the youngest to be brighter. Yet, others have found no relationship between birth order and intelligence. Ee Lynn Wong a Malaysian honours student set about challenging this proposal in a local school, as no research on the matter in Malaysia had been conducted. Miss Wong hypothesised; that the younger sibling/s would illustrate a higher level of intelligence, compared to the older sibling/s. To test this hypothesis, 65 participants consisting of 20 males and 45 females, aged between 10 and 11 years old, in the area of Klang Valley were chosen to participate in a cross-sectional study. The ‘Kaufman Brief Intelligence Scale’, 2nd Edition (KBIT2), was administered to assess the participants IQ in addition to their demographic data. The demographic data included gender, age, birth date, race, position in family (birth order), number of siblings and the main language spoken at home. The test was administered over two days, by conducting the test with one age group per day. The participants were placed in a classroom on the specified date and instructions were given when the participants were seated. 40 to 45 minutes were given to the participants to complete the intelligence test. All completed questionnaires were then returned to Miss Wong. Results found that there was no significant relationship between birth order and intelligence in the context of Malaysian children. Despite these results however, the last-born child was shown to have a wider field of knowledge (verbal and non verbal knowledge) compared to the other birth order categories.

Birth Order and Intelligence was written by Ee Lynn Wong, who was affiliated with University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Malaysia at the time the article was published. This thesis was for her honours degree in Psychology, which she did not receive any funding for. Currently Miss Wong works as a homeschooling teacher for an autistic girl. The majority of the references that Wong has used were published within the last five years. The ‘classic’ references that she’s used span longer periods of time. All references are relevant and valid to the topic being researched. The research paper has not been published in any peer reviewed journals; however there is potential for a future publication, as the ‘paper’ was only completed in March 2008.

The study was conducted because Wong, saw that research examining the correlation between ‘birth order and intelligence’ had not been conducted in a Malaysian context before. Wong said, “I just wanted to find out more. I did it for the Malaysian people”, (personal communication, 12th August, 2009). This study has been written in a simple layout allowing the reader, to understand the topic at the centre of the research as well as the methodology behind the results. Due to the research only being conducted in a Malaysian context there are gaps in the research. However other researchers have filled most of these gaps with their previous findings. Wong suggests, leading off her research in Malaysia, that a larger sample group be tested, as she only sampled 10 and 11 year olds in one school context.

Though Wong did not complete her research on a mass level, her results do match those of previous mass findings. The outcome of this study will be helpful to educators as well as parents, in understanding the strong points along with the limitations of a child in performing a certain task. By knowing these limitations, the child will not be strained to follow the footsteps and match or better the achievement of their more successful siblings. In her paper Wong articulates the main theories behind ‘birth order and intelligence’, including Alder’s theory, which states birth order to be merely one of five major influences on personality development (Stein, n.s.). She includes a framework in her paper, allowing the reader to see the array of literature on the issue, as well as her ‘Statement of Problem’, which is stated under a subheading. Wong (2008, p. 10) directly states her research question as, “Is there any significant relationship between birth order and intelligence in Malaysian children?” By stating her research question so blatantly there is no confusion as to what the aim of the research is, which further helps in the establishment of its purpose and what outcomes can be expected. Each key concept of the topic is thoroughly explained in simple terms, and laid out clearly at the beginning of the paper. This allows understanding and comprehension of the main concepts of the research, increasing its reader friendliness. The limitations of the study were given as a part of the framework, and were addressed in the report. The main limitation that Wong saw was that the sample size used in the study was too small to make a generalisable and transferable result. The study was only conducted in one school and therefore its results can only be applied to that school context. Another limitation of Wong’s research was the applicability of the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test, 2nd Edition (KBIT2), as it also showed some cultural influence (a small part of the questions in the KBIT2 was beyond the knowledge range of Asians). Wong’s analysis of the previous literature related to the study is very thorough, and shows that while much work has been conducted on ‘birth order and intelligence’, none has been completed in a Malaysian context. Her analysis also shows that the debate on whether birth order does influence intelligence is continual, with many researchers supporting the claim with their findings, while others dismiss it as merely a ‘methodological illusion’ due to the variation in results from the different methods used (Evans & McClintic: 2002).

The data collection design used in Wong’s research was the quantitative research method. Using the quantitative method meant that Wong was able to numerically record and graph student’s IQ, allowing results to be collected and analysed. The instrument used to gather information was the KBIT2 test, which tested the students IQs in addition to their demographic data (gender, race, age, etc). Using this test over a tradition IQ test, Wong was more accurately able to test the student’s intelligence, in regards to influencing factors. The experiment was conducted over two separate days in an empty classroom, chosen to the convenience of the participants, school administration and researcher. The participants chosen were between the ages of 1011, summing up to 65 students (20 males, 45 females). Wong’s decision to conduct the research over two days, meant that no one was put out of place, and results weren’t cross contaminated, as both ages weren’t in the same room at the same time. However the imbalance of the male to female ratio is of a concern, although no results showed difference between genders. Therefore the method of her testing was suitable, as it obtained valid results.

The only issue ethically that may have arisen was the use of culturally insensitive images used in the KBIT2 test, however Wong indentified this in her research and removed them. Therefore, conducting her research in an ethically sound approach. While Wong has including her raw data and its analysed form in the research paper, she has not included a set of the ‘interview schedule’ or ‘surveys’ used in the research process. Therefore no comment can be made on their appropriateness. However the validity of the method cannot be written off, as it’s not uncommon for the ‘interview schedule’ or ‘surveys’ used in the process to not be included. Diving into Wong’s discussion, Wong interprets her results along with her literature review to suggest that there is no correlation between ‘birth order and intelligence’, however the last born does show to have an advantage in the acquisition of verbal knowledge. She addresses her research questions as well as suggesting recommendations, as her own research is limited to one school in the Klang Valley, and therefore is not generalisable. Wong recommends that further research be conducted in the context of Malaysian children, with a focus on larger sample sizes, sampling in other Malaysian areas/contexts, using different testing methods, and/or researching into intra-familial samples. The outcomes from this study lie mostly in the understanding of children and their performance in education. The results will help in educators, as well as parents to understand that each child has strong and weak points; however no child is less intelligent because of their ‘birth order’.

In conclusion, Wong’s research is well structured, reader friendly, and reliably conducted. However the scope of her research is very limited as she herself indentified in the conclusion section. Her recommendations that further research needs be conducted, looking at larger sample sizes and other area contexts, leading to a more generalisable report should be acted on. Being an honours paper, this research should not be taken as an expert opinion, although her literature review is sound and her results agree with previous research findings around the world.

Evans, J. E. & McClintic, M. (2002). Does Birth Order Impact Intelligence? Missouri Western State University. Retrieved January 20th 2007, from Stein H. T. (n.s). Questions and Answers About Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy. Retrieved March 4th 2007, from Wong, L. (2008). Birth Order and Intelligence. Retrieved August 1st 2009, from

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