Of First Born Children and First Born Grandchildren: Benefits of Loving The First the Longest

GrandmotherWhen I heard about a new study on first born children on the Today Show, October 22, 2013, my first thought was to wonder if it applies to first born grandchildren too.

This Grandma thinks it does.

The study, “Strategic Parenting, Birth Order, and School Performance,” by V. Joseph Hotz and Juan Pantano, is published  by the National Bureau of Economic and can be found at   National Bureau of Economic Research.  The conclusion of the study is that first borns have higher IQs, perform better in school, and are considered more accomplished by their parents.

This Grandma theory is that first borns are advantaged because of parental age, focus, attention and energy and grandparenting age, focus, attention and energy.  Here are the six economists’ theories as to why first borns are advantaged.

1.      Parental Time Dilution is the first theory, that first borns enjoy more parental time than later borns, which explains why first borns do better in school.

Of course, the first born gets ALL the attention and lots of it!  There is only one first born and everyone is focused on being perfect parents and perfect grandparents.  Focus is the operative word.  The first born is the center of the universe in the family.

This Grandma (and Grandpa too) subscribe to the “less is better” philosophy.  When our grandparent friends with eight or more grandchildren brag about the fertility of their children, we ask them to name and give us the dates of birth of their grandchildren.  Most cannot.  With less grandchildren we have more time to give care and attention to those grandchildren we have.

2.    Lower Quality Genetic Endowment is the second theory, that younger children, by birth order, are born to older mothers so they are more likely to receive a lower quality genetic endowment.

Let us compare this to first born grandchildren having the youngest grandparents.  Younger grandparents have more energy and less physical ailments.  Because of grandparents’ “diminished” physical “endowments, subsequent born grandchildren do not have the same grandparents as the first born.  Subsequent children do not have the same parents either.  Parents are different after the first, so the children are different.  Older parents who are more tired.  Forget lower quality genetic endowment.

3.      Difficult Experience is the third theory, that first-borns, and parents’ experience with them, may have undue influence on parents’ subsequent fertility decisions–“a bad draw” ie. difficult to raise problematic child, may cause parents to curtail their subsequent fertility whereas an easy to rear first born would not.

Let’s continue this Grandma’s discussion in number two above.  So, with a difficult child, the parents decide they have had enough children and decide to have no more.  I think this goes with the dilution in focus and attention.  This Grandma has always told her children that having two children is more than double one child.  With focus, attention, energy and youth to chase the first, the behavior of the first born is going to be better.  As we age, the younger grandchildren become heavier to carry and a challenge to chase.  Yes, as it is more about the parents’ choice and selection and how much energy they want to expend on future children after getting a difficult child, it is more about grandparents’ focus, attention, energy, and youth than the grandchildren. However, since responsibility and discipline is the job of parents, not grandparents, we can palm the difficult one off on the parents!

4.    First Born as Teacher.  This theory is that the first born benefits from teaching the other subsequent children in the family.  The last born will not benefit from teaching a younger sibling, the last born will not develop strong learning skills, that the first born gets from teaching.

This Grandma remembers having the first born read books to the subsequent born and teach her.  I remember that it was that I was just too tired after working a full day, and I had the benefit of the first born to be the teacher.  Parents do not have such a benefit when there is only one child.  The first born receives a major benefit by being “mother’s and father’s helper,” and grandma’s too.

5.    Changes in Family Structure.   This theory is that the first born usually comes before crisis in the family.   Later born children are more affected by changes in family structure, ie. divorce, since later born children are more likely to spend more of their lives exposed to family disruptions.

My mother, GG, used to say, “little children, little problems, big children, big problems.”  If we grandparents are there for the parents of our grandchildren and our families, which this Grandma’s philosophy is that we should be for the best interests of our grandchildren, life gets more complicated, not only for the grandchildren and parents of our grandchildren, but also for us grandparents.  Grandparents think life becomes simpler close to or in retirement.  Our grandparent friends and we are busier now than ever before. It is easier to be the grandparent: remember the mantra: More joy and less responsibility being the grandparent.

6.     Regulated Environment.  This theory is that first borns do better in school because first borns seem to grow up in a more regulated environment -ie. regarding TV, relative to later born children, and more intense, systematic parental scrutiny regarding homework.  Parents put all of their hopes and dreams on the first born.   It seems that there are more incentives and rewards for first borns to do well in school and the parents are more likely to punish the first born for poor grades.  Later borns have more lenient parents.  But, the study said that the effect can go in other direction for later borns: parents might learn to teach better, more experienced parents make less mistakes, financial constraints with a first born might not be there for a later born when parental resources are more abundant.

So, first-born children tend to receive both the best parenting and the best grades.  Yes, they receive the best grandparenting too.  With the first born, we ALL only have one to whom we focus ALL of our plentiful attention.  Yes, for grandparents, by the second or third grandchild, we have the “new theories” of today’s generation of parents strictly foisted upon us down pat–and then the parents do not care if we follow them!  Yes, by the second or third grandchild, the parents of our grandchildren have less rules and regulations we are required to follow when we visit or care for grandchildren.  Ice cream for breakfast is not such a no-no!  The parents are too exhausted to fight with their children and are too exhausted to fight with us grandparents to do it their way.

To continue the discussion from five above, we grandparents too have more fun at ease with the subsequent born grandchildren.  We are now experienced too.  That ease is felt in the personality and behavior of the younger grandchildren.  Yes, and they almost knock us down when they run into our arms to give us hugs and kisses, faster at a time when we are slower!

Here is this Grandma’s conclusion.

Subsequent children and grandchildren are not concerned as to whether we parents and grandparents may or may not have given the first born more of our youth, focus, attention and energy.  We have.  We did not need a study to tell us that.

Subsequent children and grandchildren are only interested in the issue of whether we love the first born the most for being the first born.

When our first born grandson asked if we loved him the MOST because he was first born, we quickly answered that we loved him the LONGEST.  There is a secret that every grandparent knows.  Having him as our first, our youth, focus, energy, and attention was concentrated on this precious first born, only grandchild, and the memories of this significant life passage event will always be very special.

Loving the first born the longest brings extra benefits to the first born from parents AND grandparents.







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