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The Influence of Birth Order on Self-esteem

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Abstract

This study aims to investigate whether birth order has any influence on level of self-esteem. A Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale questionnaire was given to each potential participant (n=30) who consent to give their information for research purposes with ensured anonymity in which their identity is protected. The purpose of this close-ended questionnaire is to determine the participant’s scores on self-esteem that ranges from 0 being the lowest to 30 being the highest. The higher the scores on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the higher the self-esteem of the participant. The results obtained from this study imply that last-born showed significantly higher mean scores on self-esteem when compared to second-born and first-borns, showing that last-born have the highest self-esteem compared to their siblings, with the lowest self-esteem occurring in first-borns.

Introduction

The first person to have proposed using birth order as a consistent research variable in history was Alfred Adler in 1918. Adler was known to use birth order as a variable in his work while combining it with other pieces of information of the subject to evaluate the lifestyle of the population. Adler’s work has brought about much more research on the concept of birth order as it was a controversial idea in the social science literature during that time, attracting many debates and discussions regarding the idea of birth order (Eckstein et al, 2010).

Self-esteem, on the other hand, was first approached by William James, who suggested that Self-esteem can be measured by determining a person’s goals and aims (James, W., 1890). Self-esteem originally equates to succeeding in life and feeling good about it. But recently, it is interpreted as feeling good about oneself. The need for self-esteem plays a crucial part in American psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which outlined that self-esteem is one of the basic human motivations.

Birth Order

As mentioned before, Alfred Adler was the first to approach the concept of birth order as a research variable. Alder had believed birth order could contribute to underlying developmental issues that lead to different behaviours and character traits in an individual. Shulman and Mosak (1977) have expressed a total of two definitions of birth order, with one of the definitions referring birth order as the actual birth order of siblings (Shulman and Mosak, 1977). Adler particularly places importance on the psychological positioning of the child, he highlights that it is not the child’s birth order that influences their character, but rather the situation in which they are born in and how they subsequently interpret the situation.

There were several studies that have demonstrated that the parent-child relationship is one of the most significant indicators of self-esteem (Parker & Benson, 2004). One of such studies were Parker and Benson’s (2004) study, which suggested the perceptions of closeness with parents are positively correlated with adolescent self-esteem.

Self-esteem

Self-esteem is defined as the level of global regard one has for oneself (Harter, 1993). Any details or data obtained about oneself is linked together into self-conception (Dutta, Urvashi, 2008). To put it simply, self-esteem can be defined as the individual’s personal perception of their own worth.

There are many factors that can affect a person’s self-esteem (Dutta, Urvashi, 2008). Individuals tend to place different values on different aspects: physical appearances, achievements, whether they are approved by the crowd, their strength and weaknesses, goals in life and their relationship with others (Dutta, Urvashi, 2008). This leads to the fact that an individual will be more likely to have higher self-esteem if they feel like they are attractive, achieves their goals and has a good relationship with others. (Dutta, Urvashi, 2008) On the other hand, those who could not achieve those aspects that are perceived as important to them may suffer from low self-esteem (Dutta, Urvashi, 2008).

It has often been expressed that self-esteem brings about an individual’s ability to cope with the problems they face in life (Dutta, Urvashi, 2008). Self-esteem helps an individual to see disappointments and failures in life in a skill developing perspective, which in turn, helps the individual to deal with the problems efficiently (Dutta, Urvashi, 2008).

Past Research Findings

1. Sharon Johnson (March 2014)

An in-depth study was carried out by Sharon Johnson on March 2014. One of the aims of the research carried out by Sharon Johnson was to examine and investigate if there are any significant correlation between birth order and self-esteem. There were 200 participants who completed the questionnaire voluntarily and was consisted of both males (n=47) and females (n=153). Eligibility required participants to be over the age of 18 years, from a two parents home environment between the age of 0-12 years, have siblings, it was also required that there was a an age gap between the siblings that is between 18 months to 5 years and a minimum requirement of a secondary school qualification. The participants were divided into two age groups which is 18-40 years of age (n= 132) and over 40 years of age (n= 68).

The researcher has used a total of three (3) materials and instruments as the method to carry out the study. Among them are: The Big Five Inventory Scale (Goldberg, 1993), The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965), and The Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen and Griffin, 1985). The results found birth order categories to have no significant differences on self-esteem. First-borns participants have showed to have the highest level of self-esteem (M = 21.86, SD = 4.21) compared to middle-born (M = 20.48, SD = 4.17) and last-born (M= 21.00, SD = 4.54).

2. Dr. Veena Dani & Ms. Urvashi Dutta (December 2008)

Another research has been carried out by Dr. Veena Dani and Ms, Urvashi Dutta on December 2008. One of the aims of the study was to investigate the effect of ordinal position of birth on the level of self-esteem. The research only investigated between first-born child and second-born child. It was conducted on a total of 93 participants of both males (n=49) and females (n=44), with an average age gap of 12.6 years.

The methods used to investigate the aim of the study with the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) (Rosenberg, 1965). The results found that the mean self-esteem score for the first and second born is 20.89 and 22.09 respectively. The mean difference between the two groups is 1.2. The computed ‘t’ value was 1.69, which is insignificant at 0.05 level of significance, hence showing that there was no significant differences in the level of self-esteem between first-born and second-born child. However, looking at the mean scores of self-esteem level, it is shown that second-born child has higher self-esteem compared to first-borns.

Aim, objective and hypothesis of research

The aim of this research is to investigate the influence of birth order on self-esteem. The objective of this research being carried out is to assess the self-esteem of each category of birth order which includes first-born, second-born and last-born. We are also evaluating if there is a significant difference of self-esteem levels between the birth order groups by using the mean scores on level of self-esteem of each birth order category. The hypothesis of this research is that first-borns will have a higher level of self-esteem compared to the rest of the birth order categories which is second-born and last-born. The mentioned pattern is expected to be seen in the research.

Methodology

1. Participants

A total of 30 participants completed the questionnaire voluntarily. Both male and female participants were recruited in this research. The participants were from different families and there was a total of 19 male participants and 11 female participants. The ratio between the two groups is 1.9:1.1. They were all above 18 years old when they participated in this research. They were separated into 2 age groups, which consisted of 18-28 years old (n=25) and above 29 years old (n=5). Each of the participants were required to sign a consent form which also informs them of what they are involved in for the research before answering the questionnaire. Each of them was also given the right to withdraw from the research.

2. Selection process / Sampling method

The sampling method used in this investigation was a convenience sampling method. The method is a non-probability sampling in which participants were drawn from part of the population that were easy to approach and recruit, such as friends. Participants recruited were mostly from Sunway College and Sunway University. Hence, the results collected were from a nearby source and thus considered as a convenience sampling method.

3. Materials and Instruments

The name of the questionnaire given to participants is titled “The influence of birth order on self-esteem”. The lecturer’s name is Ms. Saranya. There were a few things included on the information letter and consent form, which are the aim of the research, investigation title and requested consent. The questionnaire included 10 questions about the participants’ general feelings about themselves. The options for the answers are “Strongly Agree”, “Agree”, “Disagree”, and “Strongly Disagree”. For items: 1, 3, 4, 7 and 10, the participants will be given points according to their response to each question, in which “Strongly Disagree” is given 0 point, “Disagree” 1 point, “Agree” 2 points, and “Strongly Agree” 3 points. For items: 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, participants are given 3 points for “Strongly Disagree”, 2 points for “Disagree”, 1 point for “Agree”, and 0 point for “Strongly Agree”.

The scale employed was Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSES). It was designed similarly to the social-survey questionnaires that was developed by sociologist Dr. Morris Rosenberg. It is a ten-item Likert-type scale with items answered on a four-point scale—from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Five of the items have positively worded statements and five have negatively worded ones. An example of positively worded statement is shown in Question 4 “I am able to do things as well as most other people” compared with Question 2 “At times I think I am no good at all”. The scale measures the level of the participant’s self-esteem by asking the them to reflect on how they currently feel about themselves. It uses a scale of 0-30 in which the individual is said to have a higher self-esteem if they obtain a higher score in the test. This test is considered a reliable and valid quantitative tool for a level of self-esteem assessment. This is because there is concurrent validity in which the scores on this measurement are correlated with RSES measurement that reflects the same construct. There is also split-half reliability because the scores on half the measurement is correlated with the score on the other half of the measurement.

4. Procedure

The questionnaires were distributed on February 2019. Participation time was approximately 5-10 minutes. In the information letter, it was explained that the participants are required to provide socio-demographic details such as gender and age and were required to identify if they are the first-born, second-born or last born in the family.

They were required to answer all the questions honestly and may withdraw from this investigation at any time. Personal information such as name, contact number and address of the participants were not asked for to ensure anonymity. In the results, numbers from 1 to 30 were used to identify each participant rather than their name. The data collected was then tabulated into an excel spreadsheet. The results of the self-esteem scores were calculated by adding up all the scores of the answers obtained from the questionnaires. The data was uploaded in a Google document and was safely stored in a protected folder.

Results

It can be seen from the results that the mean self-esteem score for the first, second and last-born group is 13.7, 18.6 and 18.8 respectively. Therefore, looking at the mean scores on level of self-esteem, last born participants have the highest self-esteem as compared to the first-born and second-born.

Discussion

The purpose of this research was to find the effects of birth order on self-esteem. The hypothesis that states that the first-born participants will be more likely to score higher on the self-esteem test in comparison to the second-born and last-born participants was not supported by the findings. This is because the results obtained from the study assert that the first-born participants have the least mean scores in self-esteem as compared to the second and last-born participants.

There were some sources of error that must be addressed for future research in this study. The participants that were recruited for this study was unequal in regards to the gender of each participant, with 11 of the participants being female while 19 participants are male. Possible improvements that could be made for this issue is to ensure that the participants recruited are equal for each gender.

Other than that, the research also uses the convenience sampling method when recruiting the participants. This is a problem as the data may have sampling bias, making it not eligible to be generalized to the population. To overcome this source of error, the research could use a new sampling method such as one of the random sampling methods, which chooses its participants through random chances to ensure that there are no sampling biases.

Lastly, the participants are also unequal with consideration of the age groups of the participants. The study only allows adult participants of 18 years and above to participate, separating 18-28 years old to 29 years old and above into two groups of different age groups. These results only consisted of 5 participants who are 29 years old and above but the rest 25 participants are aged 18-28 years old. The participants’ ages were not specified, thus an age gap of 10 years in the results may occur. This could be fixed with the same method of ensuring that the participants that are recruited have small age gaps between each other.

As mentioned above in one of the sources of errors, the study uses the convenience sampling method to recruit the participants. This causes the study to not be able to be generalized to the population as it has sampling bias that is not randomly chosen. Furthermore, this study is only comprised of the results of 30 participants. Although almost all of the participants in this study are students of the AUSMAT program in Sunway University, the study cannot be used for generalization of the population or the students of AUSMAT program as the sample size is too small to be considered.

In conclusion, the hypothesis was not supported by the results as the results shown that first born participants have an approximate of ~25% lower mean scores than second and last-born participants.

References:

  • Ansbacher, H. L., & Ansbacher, R. R. (Eds.). (1956). The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. New York: Basic Books.
  • Cervone, D., & Pervin, L. A. (2008). Personality: Theory and research (10th ed.) Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction With Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71-75.
  • Dutta, Urvashi. (2008). A Study of Self Esteem in relation to Birth Order and Gender.
  • Eckstein, D., Aycock, K. J., Sperber, M. A., McDonald, J., Wiesner, V. V., Watts, R. E., & Ginsburg, P. (2010). A Review of 200 Birth-order studies: lifestyle characteristics. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 66(4), pp. 408-419.
  • Goldberg, L. R. (1993). The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist, 48(1), 26-34.
  • Harter, S. (1993). Causes and consequences of low self esteem in children and adolescents.
  • James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. New York: H. Holt and Company.
  • Maslow, AH. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York: Harper & Row; 1987.
  • Parker, J. S., & Benson, M. J. (2004). Parent-adolescent relations and adolescent functioning: self-esteem, substance abuse, and delinquency. Adolescence, 39, 519-531.
  • Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Sharon Johnson (2014). Investigating the effects birth order has on personality, self-esteem, satisfaction with life and age. Retrieved from : https://esource.dbs.ie/bitstream/handle/10788/2254/hdip_johnson_j_2014.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  • Shulman, B. H., & Mosak, H. H. (1977). Birth order and ordinal position: Two Adlerian views. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 33(1), pp.114-121
  • Topness, E.S. (2014). Adler’s birth order theory.

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