Bryan Caplan  

Birth Order and Safety

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All the parents of multiple children I know admit that they stress less about - and do less for - the later arrivals: "We went crazy baby-proofing when we had our first baby; but by the time his sister came along, who had the energy?" Does anyone know if there is any data showing that reduced parental safety input for later-borns has any effect on safety output? Within a family, do later-borns have higher rates of death, accident, sickness, etc?

Note: As in other birth-order studies, you can't just compare big and small families, because big families usually have lower socio-economic status. The best approach is to compare safety within the family (or barring that, look at safety controlling for SES).


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Matthew writes:

Another "absolutely yes" anectdotal data point in agreement here, Bryan.

Rachel writes:

I'm not sure that's a fair comparison. Later born kids also benefit from handy-me down babyproofing. For example, parents have already thrown out the most dangerous pieces of furniture after they've taken the firstborn for stitches. The net effect is ambiguous.

manuelg writes:

> The net effect is ambiguous.

Also, the womb is not inert, and has a "memory". Causing differences to the fetus during gestation, affecting development.

There are demonstrable differences on the development of firstborn versus siblings.

Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives, Frank J. Sulloway, don't know if the effect of the womb's memory is covered here. Google "birth order womb" to see a lot of coverage on male sexual orientation in brothers.

Dr. T writes:

You noted a need to correct for socioeconomic status. I believe you also have to correct for rural vs. urban/suburban. I grew up rural where the older children (especially the oldest boy) had the highest accident/injury/occupational disease rates. The eldest often were required to do tasks beyond their abilities (in my case, drive a tractor when I could barely touch the clutch and brake pedals). The younger children were safer because they were given fewer risky tasks and they had more supervision (parents plus older siblings).

Steve Roth writes:

Pure conjecture unsupported by (and very difficult to support by) any real evidence:

The younger kids also suffer less emotional damage from their parents' hovering anxiety. After one child even the tightly-wrapped come to an intuitive understanding of Hamlet's advice: "Let be."

LemmusLemmus writes:

To add to Dr. T's comment, you'd also want to control for parental age. It might be younger parents are more energetic. On the other hand, maybe older parents' parents are already retired and will thus have more time to watch out for the offspring, so you'd want to control for that as well.

Boy, I'm foreseeing collinearity problems here...

Jay writes:

There's an NBER paper (don't know if it's been published) that looks at something similar:

Hao, Lingxin, Joseph Hotz, and Ginger Jin (2000) "Games Daughters and Parents Play: Teenage Childbearing, Parental Reputation, and Strategic Transfers", NBER Working Paper 7670.

They find that parents get tougher with the earlier children in order to establish a tough reputation in the hopes that later children won't misbehave (in this case, by having unprotected sex).

Zena writes:

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RogerClemens writes:

See the paper by Joe Price, BYU Economics.

ettubloge writes:

With the first-born, when the pacifier hits the floor, the parents swoops it up, boils water in the kitchen and gives it to the baby after it has boiled for 30 minutes and cooled for 15 minutes.

With the 2nd child, the parent picks it up, rinses it off at the sink and gives it ot the kid.

By the 3rd kid, the parent calls the family dog in to lick it clean before placing it back in the baby's mouth.

No one dies.

920198148 writes:

This is an interesting idea. There have been many studies about the birth-order of children and how it impacts their personalities, future jobs, ambition, etc...but I've never heard this question brought to the table.

I personally think that with the first-born parents(for the most part)are too protective and too paranoid. They might as well wrap their child in bubble wrap! I'm not saying baby-proofing your house is a bad idea, I definitely think you should take resonable precautions such as gating the stairs, plugging outlets, locking chemical cabinets, and fix the obvious dangers. What I am saying is a little dirt is probably not going to kill your baby.

With second-borns I don't think its the parents are too tired to take all of the same precautions they did with the first, I just think they realized they wasted a lot of time and even money by letting people scare them into thinking if they didn't buy this product they were putting their child in danger, when in truth they really were not. By the second child I think parents have figured out what they should really worry about and what they can relax a little bit more about.

I do agree with the fact that if one wanted to do this study they would have to take into account the family size and economic status. I don't think that lower income families could afford all of the fancy child-proofing products that are on the market today, but this doesn't mean they care any less for their children they simply can't afford it.

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