Study Shows That Second Children Really Are More Difficult

second children

RachelKiser_200TallRachel Kiser
Blogger | Mom of Two


It’s a pretty well-known fact among veteran moms: second children are quite the handful. While most of us come out the other side of parenting our first child feeling pretty confident, it often crumbles under the immense pressure of having another baby in the house. Babies who, a lot of the time, are here to humble us and teach us a few things. My son, our second-born, has challenged almost every parenting ideal I had before he came along. At times it’s been tear-inducing. Others, just plain comical.

Thankfully a study conducted by an MIT economist named Joseph Doyle confirms what most of us moms with multiple children expected: Second children actually are more difficult than others.second children

Doyle conducted a study of thousands of families where there were more than one child, focusing primarily on families whose second-born was male. When the study was said and done, it came to the conclusion that second-born children presented more “challenging” behavior than the others. Second-born boys were far more likely to be in trouble with the school system, and were far more likely to be incarcerated.

There are, of course, many factors that could lend a hand to these outcomes. Doyle tells NPR,

“The firstborn has role models, who are adults. And the second, later-born children have role models who are slightly irrational 2-year-olds, you know, their older siblings. Both the parental investments are different, and the sibling influences probably contribute to these differences we see in labor market and what we find in delinquency. It’s just very difficult to separate those two things because they happen at the same time.”

But, lest we think our unruly first-born toddler siblings are mostly to blame, Doyle also shares that, “differences in parental attention” are a potential contributing factor in the delinquency gaps across birth order.

So, while we were leaving our little ones in their bumbo seats to tend to big sister’s potty training needs or putting her in time-out for the hundredth time that day, we were slowly making our children delinquents? Oh boy!

Of course we can’t be so hard on ourselves, but the information is interesting for sure. We’ll choose to take this information with a grain of salt, because after all, we’re doing the best we can, right?



RachelKiser_200TallAbout Rachel Kiser

Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.

View all posts by Rachel Kiser here.


36 Comments on “Study Shows That Second Children Really Are More Difficult”

  1. I agree. I have 3 boys, but the second is something else. He’s rough, mischievous and always stirs trouble. I have seen this same character with my elder sister, who happens to be the second born sibling.

  2. I can definitely see that being true! For either boys or girls. My mom told me I was a hellion but then again both of our parents were always working. So I mean I guess it all depends on the situation at hand.

  3. I have two children 5 years apart and I haven’t seen any more difficulty yet with the second than the first. Then again my second is only 2, so maybe the best is yet to come!

  4. My second is definitely more difficult. My eldest is a boy, and my daughter is 3 years younger. My son had me to himself for three whole years, so my attention was undivided. When my daughter came along, he lost some of that, but she never got the full attention that he had. She was a bit of a bully and would push around her older brother. She’s almost now, and still quite a handful.

  5. We have two girls, 15 months apart, currently 4 and 2 1/2. It’s interesting to see how much our elder incluences the younger, though they definitely have their own personalities. Our girls are pretty good for the. out part, so we are fortunate.

    1. It is always sweet to see the interactions and influence siblings have on one another. Thank you for sharing, Rebecca!

  6. This if definitely true my oldest is 8 and my youngest is 15 months she is our little wild child …she cries more, she is into everything, she is a daredevil, and she is always letting you know she is here!

  7. My second child was what he referred to himself as “window child” because I would not let him out of my sight, so when he got older he broke loose and got in alittle trouble , but all in all all my sons are good kids.

  8. I guess I would have thought the opposite of their conclusion! To me the second child has a role model,the eldest and would want to do and live up tp what they do! To me like you said raise them with good values and hope they will turn out good!

  9. This may have basis, we have 5 children, and yet they all seem to experience some of these issues, not just the second child. Generalities always have a basis of truth for someone out there.

  10. My older son is 6 and my second son is 3. I hope this article is false. Right now he is a good boy and I hope he stays like that.

  11. This is such an interesting post. My sister was the second child and caused the most trouble for my parents. My mom blamed it on “middle child syndrome.”

  12. I have two children 6 years apart and i seen no more difficultly with the second than the first.

  13. Not true in my case. My daughter was 4 years older and helped her little brother a lot. They are both nice people.

  14. I have two children that are 19 years apart. My first was a girl and second was a boy. I could’t agree more that the second child is more difficult, especially given that I had my son at an older age and it’s difficult for me physically to keep up with him!

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