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Study that says first-borns are smarter leads to debate among parents

Many parents say their first-borns are not necessarily the smartest

CNN News Wire | 10/24/2013, midnight
I am a middle child, and I don’t think my older sister would be too upset to hear me take ...

Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life.

I am a middle child, and I don’t think my older sister would be too upset to hear me take issue with the latest study to find that first-born children do better in school than us kids who were born later. (Hint: I was the kid who loved school!)

But science is science, and this study, a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, follows several other studies that came to similar conclusions about the children who came first.

In the latest one, the authors found that first-borns got better grades, and concluded, based on their research, that it’s because parents are stricter with the first-borns and get a bit more lax when it comes to enforcing TV rules, monitoring homework, and even getting upset over bad grades for subsequent children.

“You don’t even have to have written about siblings to know that parents always relax more with the second kids and relax more still with the third kids,” said Jeffrey Kluger, senior editor at Time magazine and author of “The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us.”

“Now sometimes that’s a good thing because you are not going to boil the pacifier every time it falls on the floor with the second and third kids,” said Kluger. “The downside can be that (parents) become a bit more lackadaisical.”

No surprise, I found no shortage of parents who vehemently take issue with the study and its findings.

“I personally don’t think that I am ‘easier’ on my second-born because we have high standards for both our children,” said Ashley Fitting of northern California, a parenting and lifestyle blogger and mom to a 4-year-old and 10-month-old.

“I do think that I learned from having my first, and so my second is reaping the benefits of me no longer being a complete hopeless mess of trial and error,” she said.

Marc Reiner, a father of two elementary school-age girls in New York City, said while the first child receives “more parenting,” he’s not so sure it’s the “same as better parenting.”

“It’s nice to think it has a positive effect, but I suspect that it might actually be the reverse and the younger kids are smarter because they pick up more from their siblings,” he said on Facebook. (We should note he is the youngest of three boys.)

But first-borns such as Amanda Rodriguez of Frederick, Maryland, who said somewhat facetiously she is “way smarter” than her brother, think there is something unique about the children who come first. She said growing up she was more determined and focused than her brother was.

“My oldest son is the same thing,” said Rodriguez, a mom of three boys who are 5, 8 and 11, and founder of the blog, Dude Mom. “He’s extremely responsible. He’s always where he’s supposed to be. He’s very conscientious in school, and my subsequent children are just not like that.”