First-born children are more likely to do better at school because parents pay them more attention, according to new research.
The extra focus gives them an “edge” over younger brothers and sisters and higher IQs – as early as the age of one. Researchers found the eldest child outperformed siblings in thinking skills after receiving more “mental stimulation”.
Advantages started from just after birth to three years old. The differences were highlighted in language, reading, maths and comprehension abilities. As subsequent children were born mums and dads changed their behaviour – taking part in fewer activities such as such as reading, crafts and playing musical instruments.
Mothers also took higher risks – they were more likely to smoke during pregnancy once they had already had a child and were also less likely to breastfeed after birth, for instance.
Dr Ana Nuevo-Chiquero, of Edinburgh University, said: “Our results suggest broad shifts in parental behaviour are a plausible explanation for the observed birth order differences in education and labour market outcomes.”
“As early as age one, latter-born children score lower on cognitive assessments than their siblings, and the birth order gap in cognitive assessment increases until the time of school entry and remains statistically significant thereafter.
“Mothers take more risks during pregnancy and are less likely to breastfeed and to provide cognitive stimulation for latter-born children.
“Variations in parental behaviour can explain most of the differences in cognitive abilities before school entry.”