I’m in the queue, so I have lesser IQ?

My cousin, an eldest sib­ling, alert­ed me to this news find­ing: The eldest chil­dren in fam­i­lies tend to devel­op high­er I.Q.’s than their sib­lings, researchers are report­ing, in a large study that could set­tle more than a half-cen­tu­ry of sci­en­tif­ic debate about the rela­tion­ship between I.Q. and birth order.

Salient Points

  • The study was car­ried out only on men. Researchers say sex doesn’t mat­ter, and that find­ings would apply equal­ly to females.
  • The researchers looked at IQ scores in 250,000 men enter­ing manda­to­ry mil­i­tary ser­vice. They found a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in IQ scores in 60,000 pairs of sib­lings.
  • Men who were first in social or birth order had, on aver­age an IQ about 2.3 points high­er than those who were sec­ond in social or birth order. This pat­tern con­tin­ued in the sense that sec­ond born men had high­er IQs than the third born, and so on.
  • The caus­es are social, not bio­log­i­cal.

My Observations

  • Inter­est­ing­ly, about a year ago, Med­ical News had report­ed find­ings about a sim­i­lar study, con­duct­ed in the US, with exact­ly oppo­site results.
  • Though the study doesn’t cov­er sin­gle chil­dren, the social fac­tors that are cit­ed as respon­si­ble for high­er IQ in elder sib­lings would work won­ders when there’s only a sin­gle child. So does this mean coun­tries like Chi­na, with a one-child-per-fam­i­ly pro­gram will pro­duce a nation of genius­es?

For Parents

  • Par­ents should not be undu­ly con­cerned about these results. Hav­ing high IQ and know­ing how to use it are dif­fer­ent attrib­ut­es.
  • A child might score a few points low­er in their IQ but have oth­er assets such as curios­i­ty, imag­i­na­tion and what is increas­ing­ly being called “emo­tion­al intel­li­gence” that helps them use their IQ more effec­tive­ly.
  • If you have sev­er­al chil­dren, then spend­ing some one-to-one time with each one is prob­a­bly a good thing to do but if you can’t man­age it, don’t lose sleep over it.
  • Par­ents who rec­og­nize the dif­fer­ent nich­es that their chil­dren fill can enhance the family’s intel­lec­tu­al envi­ron­ment by exploit­ing each child’s exper­tise, researchers say.
  • While even slight dif­fer­ences in I.Q. score can be impor­tant for some, the test mea­sures a nar­row set of skills. Exces­sive atten­tion to it can blind par­ents to the diverse and equal­ly rich exper­tise that lat­er-born chil­dren usu­al­ly devel­op.

For Elder Siblings

  • Chill out!

For Younger Siblings

Don’t despair:

  • You can kill your elder sib­lings (as sug­gest­ed by anoth­er youngest-in-fam­i­ly cousin)
  • If the above sounds anath­e­ma to you (even if you have low IQ), you can encour­age your par­ents to have more chil­dren (so you’ll have high­er IQ than them)
  • You already have impres­sive friends and are in dis­tin­guished com­pa­ny
  • Evi­dence sug­gests that younger sib­lings are more like­ly than old­er ones to take risks based on their knowl­edge and instincts.
  • The study did not look at the effect of age gaps on IQ. But pre­vi­ous research has sug­gest­ed that a younger sib­ling with a large enough age gap might be able to recoup the IQ points.
  • The study was con­duct­ed in Nor­way. If you’re Nor­we­gian, as per Aster­ix, you’ve noth­ing to fear. Even if you’re not, you’ve noth­ing to fear. The study doesn’t talk about cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences in upbring­ing.
  • It doesn’t mean younger sib­lings aren’t more intel­li­gent in oth­er ways, like emo­tion­al intel­li­gence.

Fur­ther, the New York Times quotes experts:

To dis­tin­guish them­selves, younger sib­lings often devel­op oth­er skills, like social charm, a good curve­ball, mas­tery of the elec­tric bass, act­ing skills. They are devel­op­ing diverse inter­ests and exper­tise that the I.Q. tests do not mea­sure.

This kind of exper­i­men­ta­tion might explain evi­dence that younger sib­lings often live more adven­tur­ous lives than their old­er broth­er or sis­ter. They are more like­ly to par­tic­i­pate in dan­ger­ous sports than eldest chil­dren, and more like­ly to trav­el to exot­ic places. They tend to be less con­ven­tion­al than first­borns, and some of the most provoca­tive and influ­en­tial fig­ures in sci­ence spent their child­hoods in the shad­ow of an old­er broth­er or sis­ter.

First­borns have won more Nobel Prizes in sci­ence than younger sib­lings, but often by advanc­ing cur­rent under­stand­ing, rather than over­turn­ing it.

It’s the dif­fer­ence between every-year or every-decade cre­ativ­i­ty and every-cen­tu­ry cre­ativ­i­ty,” Dr. Sul­loway said, “between inno­va­tion and rad­i­cal inno­va­tion”.

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  • As I com­ment­ed in my arti­cle on the JAMA arti­cle on child obe­si­ty, med­ical research keeps going round and round. At least, much of it. I just don’t give more than a pass­ing glance at reports say­ing things like ‘women who eat choco­late have more orgasms’, or ‘kids with white teeth have more chances of diar­rhea’, or sim­i­lar tripe.
    One needs to realise that much of sci­ence exists for its own sake.

  • Well. Let’s see

    Eldest — Krish Ashok = engg + TCS, now using soft­ware job pay to do jal­sa and jil­pa
    Mid­dle — Krish Karthik = engg + MS + Phd (cur­rent­ly) in the US, res­i­dent tech­nol­o­gy guru
    Youngest — Krish Raghav = No engg (thank god), BBA + cur­rent­ly jour­nal­ism

    Me thinks the reverse is true. IQ increas­es as we go down the birth order.

  • Ramana: While most such stud­ies may indeed be non­sen­si­cal, like the obe­si­ty one you wrote about, I don’t think this one falls under that cat­e­go­ry. The study’s find­ings have been received with great inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic inter­est, and have raised impor­tant ques­tions or leads for fur­ther research.

    Krish: well, well…we have one eldest sib­ling who thinks the oppo­site!