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The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way…

The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are

by Kevin Leman

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So spot on! As I read each chapter, I just kept thinking "OMG, I am such a typical first born daughter!" & "Wow, these descriptions of the middle child & the last born describe my brothers exactly." ( )
  PiperUp | Aug 14, 2015 |
Psychologist Kevin Leman believes that birth order strongly affects adult personality attributes, a person's relationships with their spouse and children, and even one's occupational choice. In this book, he characterizes attributes of first- borns, middle children, last- borns, and only - children. Leman offers advice to adults to help them understand their personality attributes and how to make their birth order work best for them. Likewise, he advises parents on how to meet the particular needs of siblings that reflect their birth order.

This book relies heavily on sweeping generalizations. For example, first - borns are said to be more highly motivated to achieve than are younger siblings. They tend to be "perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, list makers, well – organized, critical, serious, and scholarly", and "known for their strong powers of concentration, tolerance, and patience." Of US presidents (we are informed), 52% were first borns, as were 21 of the first 23 astronauts sent to space. (Is this actually true? How many were only - children, and how many merely the first born male -- given that such careers were long not open to females?) Regardless, Leman considers that such numbers reflect the fact that first borns seek careers that require "precision, strong powers of concentration, and dogged mental discipline." In contrast, "middle" children are said to have lacked sufficient attention, and as adults, try to avoid conflict at any price, and tend to be secretive, prone to embarassment, and to have (despite a calm exterior) "all kinds of storms" brewing beneath the surface. Similar sorts of generalizations are offered about last- borns and those who have been the "only child."

Much of this information will sound familiar to readers of books on pop psychology, where it has been repeated over the decades. However, because this book cites no empirical studies and refers to very little of the social science literature, its glib assertions remain uncorroborated and difficult to assess. One potential criticism of the birth- order hypothesis -- that it is somehow like astrology -- is (as Leman notes) entirely unfair. Under the birth - order hypothesis, children respond to their early environment (including siblings) by forming personalities that reflect parental expecations and styles of supervision, as well as sibling ties and rivalries. Accordingly, birth order attributes are purported to reflect responses of flexible potentials to particular circumstances, while having nothing to do with genetics (or the supernatural).

Nevertheless, as Leman readily acknowledges, there are many variables other than strict birth order that can affect a given child's personality. Among the confounding variables are gender -- thus (he notes) that a girl with two older brothers may show attributes of a first born, since she is the first girl. Another variable is body type -- when a boy is physically larger and more powerful than his older brother, the result may be a role reversal. Another variable is size of the age gaps between siblings; a larger gap may yield a set of siblings that restart the birth order count. Other variables include family size, presence of twins (who attract special attention whatever their position in the age hierarchy), children with special needs, and blended families (siblings of different parentage). To this list we can add features Leman never considers but which are very much attributes of the US social scene, such as single parent households, spousal abuse, alcoholism, divorce, and poverty. Further, Leman's facile generalizations about career choices entirely ignore the impact of social class -- as if all individuals have equal access to professional careers -- not to mention the significant issues of race and gender. Thus, the book implicitly ignores the ways personalities and potentials are reflections of the social, political, and economic features of the society at large. Leman's account may or may not apply to middle and upper class US society in the 1980s, but they can hardly be assumed to apply to other time periods or to the world at large. (The situation is analogous to Freud's parochial focus on upper class women of Vienna).

Finally, one ought not overlook the important role of heredity on personality, manifested in attributes that have nothing to do with birth order. For example, much recent research has shown that features ranging from risk- taking behavior to religiosity to homosexuality have strong heritable components.

In response to those complexities that he does recognize, Leman seems to stretch his explanations to fit any circumstances. In his anecdotes, there is always a convenient explanation to account for why a given individual has turned out a particular way that doesn't conform to predictions based solely on birth order. Thus, Leman's Procrustean explanations take on attributes of the very astrology he justifiably dismisses.

How reliable is this book then? To the critical reader, unfortunately, not very reliable at all. The many variables that are and are not recognized in Leman's book surely have the potential to interact in complex ways to determine personality attributes. Teasing out their relative contributions would require a highly sophisticated statistical analysis of a very large data set. What's more, the personality attributes need to be operationalized in quantifiable ways. For these and other reasons, the subdiscipline of personality psychology has yielded a large and complex literature. Little wonder that professional psychologists are skeptical of simplistic birth-order explanations for personality attributes.

Readers may enjoy this book, and find nuggets of information that seem to give insight into a particular circumstance. However, anecdotes are too easily chosen to fit one's pet hypotheses, and counter - examples can be all-too- readily dismissed or explained away. In short, this book offers no reliable empirical support for its facile generalizations and pat assertions. In view of the complexities, readers who are seriously interested in whether and how birth order affects personality will have to seek elsewhere. ( )
11 vote danielx | Apr 30, 2011 |
I found the Birth Order Book to be a fun, easy read. Kevin Lehman makes understanding siblings easy. ( )
  LindaMorris | Mar 29, 2011 |
THE BIRTH ODER BOOK would have been much better if the first three chapters were taken away. There was a lot of self promotion for the book in these first four chapters, and I became a bit frustrated with the author telling us how great this book was and how important it was that we read it. While he did make some pretty interesting statements in the book, and parts of the book really were great, the author’s sales tactics were applied in the incorrect setting. The people that need to be told to read the book are not the ones, like me, who are already reading it. The concept of birth order is certainly interesting, and the author gave some easy to understand examples and “tests” to help get his point across, but you can probably just skim the first few chapters and not miss very much…..but what do I know, I am just a first born. ( )
  mariah2 | Sep 4, 2010 |
Why we act the way we do according to when we were born in our family.
  austinwood | Sep 19, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080075977X, Paperback)

Dr. Leman's ever popular book on birth order is ready for a new generation of readers. With insight and wit, Dr. Leman offers readers a fascinating and often funny look at how birth order affects personality, marriage and relationships, parenting style, career, and children. Whether at home or on the job, birth order powerfully influences the way people interact with others. This is a great book for anyone who wants to learn more about how they react to their world. Dr. Leman even shows readers how to overcome ingrained tendencies they never thought they'd be rid of, all by focusing on their birth order.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:35 -0400)

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This updated edition of Dr. Leman's classic bestseller offers key insights into how birth order affects personality, marriage and relationships, parenting style, career, and children.

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