Are second-born children more likely to get into trouble?



Second child personality shining through!

I heard a discussion on TV about a study that says second born children are more likely to get into trouble.

“Wait a minute,” I wanted to interject. “I’m a second child and I’m not a criminal.” That’s right, they were saying that second children were 20 to 40 percent more likely to get into trouble at school and enter the criminal justice system.

As the mother of two kids, my second child is not any more difficult than my first. Nor, did she get into any trouble. After listening some more, I learned that the study didn’t necessarily apply to second siblings who were girls.

Interesting. So, what exactly did this study say?

Fox 8 Cleveland said this:

A new study indicates that second-born boys are more likely to get in trouble — and even become criminals — than their brothers and sisters.

The study, conducted by researchers including MIT, Northwestern University, University of Florida and Aarhus University in Denmark, looked at siblings in both Denmark and the United States.

The research finds that second-born boys are “substantially more likely to exhibit delinquency problems compared to their older siblings.”

The abstract states that in families with two or more children, second-born boys are 20 to 40 percent more likely to be disciplined in school and enter the criminal justice system compared to first-born boys.

The abstract states:

“The data allow us to examine a range of potential mechanisms, and the evidence rules out differences in health at birth and the quality of schools chosen for children. We do find that parental time investment measured by time out of the labor force is higher for first-borns at ages 2-4, suggesting that the arrival of a second-born child extends early-childhood parental investments for first-borns.”

Here’s the actual study if you want to read more details.

From KVUE ABC from Austin TX, “Second-born children more likely to be delinquent, study finds:”

First-borns have a new study to lord over their siblings. A study has found that second-born children, especially boys, are more likely to get in trouble.

An MIT economist studied how birth order affects whether a child, particularly a boy, exhibits “delinquency behavior,” compared to first-borns in the same family. Joseph Doyle and his colleagues defined delinquency in terms of “disciplinary actions and truancy at school, juvenile delinquency, and adult crime and imprisonment.”

The researchers looked at sets of data involving tens of thousands of brothers in two different settings: Denmark and Florida.

“In families with two or more children, second-born boys are on the order of 20 to 40 percent more likely to be disciplined in school and enter the criminal justice system compared to first-born boys even when we compare siblings,” the study reads.

Doyle told NPR this may be caused by a number of factors, including the second child’s need to compete for attention, and the presence of such a young role model in the second-born child’s life.

“The first-born 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,” he said.

I think this comes down to common sense. With the first-born, the child has the parents’ undivided attention. This will be the first maternity leave parents may take. The parents will dote and try and figure out this whole new parenting thing. The first-born grows up following the rules, becoming a leader, good student and earning their parents’ constant praise. Then, the second child comes along and through nobody’s fault—the second born receives less attention from parents than their older sibling. There isn’t time for undivided attention because the attention has to be divided.

The younger child, a year or more behind, realizes they cannot catch up to this little person–who in their opinion is perfect and developmentally so far ahead. So, the second child finds his own path. In the case of many boys, they become trouble makers. Maybe that’s to get their fair share of attention? In my daughter’s case, she made her path between the lane lines in the pool rather than looking for trouble. She developed a passion and desire to get faster than her brother as a swimmer. He had cut out his place in the classroom.

What do you think about second children? Do you have children and do you notice a difference because of birth order? How about your siblings? Do you have a second son in your family who’s been in trouble?


Me and brother. I’m the second and youngest child.

2 thoughts on “Are second-born children more likely to get into trouble?

  1. Second Borns to become criminals is a bit of a stretch don’t you think?! I didn’t even bother to read the study most of my friends would have criminal records so I am just going to shrug and laugh today!

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