Birth Order*

Science or Myth?

-  Dr. Kevin Leman has a book titled The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. He says, "Whatever your family was, you are." Dr. James Dobson claims that, "The Birth Order Book has sold over a half-million copies." In response to the declining birth rate, Leman says, "A greater proportion of first-born and only children will make us a society of flaw-pickers, yuppies, and achievers."

In answer to the question asked by Christianity Today: "Can most church pastors who do a fair amount of counseling use birth-order after reading a book or two?" Leman answers: " Absolutely. I have tried to train pastors in a seminar called 'Counseling Families When You Don't Have Much Time.' This is an economical way to get behind the eyes of someone in the church and understand their family and their plight in life" (Christianity Today, 10/18/85, p. 49).

-  On one of Dobson's Focus on the Family radio interviews with Leman, Dobson refers to The Birth Order Book as "very relevant to parenting." He says to Leman, "I agree with your Birth Order Book," and after some discussion about the book's subtitle, "Why You Are the Way You Are," the two agree that the subtitle is not meant to be an absolute. At the end of the broadcast Dobson says, "I think you have a real winner here ... Keep writing." Leman also appeared on the heretical Trinity Broadcasting Network program (TBN) on 6/26/92 to promote the birth order concept.

-  Leman teaches concerning birth order that:

"The difference that is evident in kids' lives between the first-born child [and] the second-born child in the family, you can almost guarantee they're going to be the opposite. As we go down the family branch we see that each child branches off in a very unique way ... There's hard research to substantiate there is something to birth order ... We find that people in certain occupational areas and expertise in life, such as architecture, accounting, engineering, those structured occupations tend to be first-born children. As we go through the family constellation and go through second children, youngest children, we find that people go into much more people-oriented vocations."

Leman then attempts to Christianize the concept:

"The biblical characters in the Bible prove out birth order very well."

-  It is obvious that Leman is enthusiastic about the relationship between birth order and personality. However, contrary to what he says, the research has not proven it. Science magazine featured a special report by John Tierney on "The Myth of the Firstborn." Tierney says:

"Birth order theory makes an appealing neat way to categorize human beings -- like astrology, but with scientific trappings ..."

After reviewing 35 years of research -- some 1500 studies -- CÚcile Ernst and Jules Angst of the University of Zurich reach a simple conclusion:

"On a scale of importance, the effects of birth order fall somewhere between negligible and nonexistent " (Science, December 1983, p. 16). (Emphasis added.)

One wonders about the "hard research" to which Leman might be referring.

-  In addition to the subtitle of Leman's book, the following is found on the cover of the book:



These are outrageous direct and implied promises that are based upon opinion, not fact. Leman says in the book:

"Birth order has nothing to do with astrology, but it definitely affects your personality, whom you marry, your children, your occupational choice, and even how well you get along with God."

While birth order has nothing directly to do with astrology, there is a similarity [from which Four Temperament Theory is derived]. Both astrology and birth order lack scientific support for their validity, and like astrology, both are based upon opinion unsubstantiated by research.

-  Where is God in all of this? As usual, almost totally absent. Read another similar psychologically oriented book by Leman, Unlocking the Secrets of Your Childhood Memories, as well as The Birth Order Book. See if you can find God there beyond a few passing references. Nor is He given any preeminence on the Focus on the Family radio programs on which Leman espoused this psychological nonsense.

In both Unlocking the Secrets of Your Childhood Memories and The Birth Order Book, the premises upon which they rest are false. A false foundation can only result in false theories, techniques, and methodologies, which is the case with these two books. Even people who love psychology should look askance at such books.

-  In a 1994 book published by Focus on the Family, Living in a Step Family Without Getting Stepped On, Leman goes even further with his birth order myth. He now claims that birth order is a science and "If you understand how the various birth orders react and relate, you can save yourself a lot of trouble!" (9/94, Focus on the Family magazine, p. 14). He claims that if there are big age differences between children (i.e., "staircase" children), then you can have more than one "first-born" in a family -- "... any child who is a least five years younger than his oldest brother or sister is likely to have the characteristics of a first-born" (Ibid.). How convenient! [Focus on the Family will also publish Leman's 1995 book, Raising Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down.]

Some further research debunking the validity of birth order derived personality typologies: 

(a) "Personality measurements for ascendancy, emotional stability, responsibility, sociability, and self-esteem were compared across birth order categories. Undergraduates (N= 535 total) reported whether they were the eldest, middle, or youngest children of their families, only children, or of inconsistent birth order due to parents' remarriage.  ANOVA [a statistical procedure] did not support any significant effects for these personality traits across birth order categories for either males or females. It was concluded that the hypothesized differences must be relegated to folklore" (excerpted from the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypotheses). (Reported in the September-October, 2002, PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter.) 

(b) Are Firstborns Smarter? -- "Challenging popular belief is new research, published in American Psychologist, that asserts that there is no direct link between birth order and intelligence, and that concerns that big families produce less intelligent children are misguided" (excerpted from Psychology Today, Vol. 33, No. 6, p. 20, based on an article in the American Psychologist, Vol. 55, No.6, pp. 599-612). Authors of the American Psychologist article clearly state: "The apparent relation between birth order and intelligence has been a methodological illusion." (Reported in the May-June, 2001, PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter.)

* Besides James Dobson being favorably disposed to the birth order concept, another well-known devotee is Bill Gothard. Gothard continues to promote the pop psychology idea that "birth order" is a key determinant of human personality traits. (Gothard even claims Jesus exhibits first born personality characteristics!) The "birth order" concept has long been a favorite of psychologists such as humanist Alfred Adler, but as stated in this report, numerous studies have now shown this idea to be pure myth. (See pp. 235-237 of Prophets of PsychoHeresy II, by Martin & Deidre Bobgan, from which most of the information in this report has been drawn. PH II is now out of print and has been replaced by James Dobson's Gospel of Self-Esteem & Psychology.)

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 1/2003