How Being the Oldest Child Impacts Your Success in Business and Life Dr. Brittany McGeehan, a licensed psychologist based in Frisco, Texas, delves into the family dynamics that shape who we become.

By Amanda Breen

Key Takeaways

  • Dr. McGeehan highlights birth order, socioeconomic status and "an intact household" as significant in shaping a child's pathway to success.
  • First-born children often develop leadership qualities early on due to higher expectations but may also face pressure to fulfill parental aspirations rather than their own.
  • Creating a balance between structure and individual passion is essential for parents to guide their children toward fulfillment and success in their chosen careers.
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Have you ever wondered how birth order impacts success in business and life?

Whether you're the oldest, middle, youngest or only child, your position within the family does affect your upbringing and future — though to an extent that varies considerably depending on individual circumstances.

Dr. Brittany McGeehan, a licensed psychologist based in Frisco, Texas who specializes in working with high-achieving women, acknowledges birth order's role in building foundations for success in childhood and stresses a couple of other significant factors: socioeconomic status and the "intact household."

Related: Are Some People Born to Be Entrepreneurs?

"That allows them to actually have a childhood [and not] grow up too fast."

Children who grow up in households with higher socioeconomic status are generally "given a leg up," McGeehan says, citing different parenting styles and better access to resources.

So are those adolescents who experience an "intact household," which doesn't necessarily mean a "traditional mom and dad," two-parent dynamic, McGeehan explains. Instead, it's when a child has access to secure attachments in the form of caregivers who meet their needs, even if those people are grandparents or neighbors.

"That allows them to actually have a childhood [and not] grow up too fast," McGeehan says.

Related: 8 Powerful Ways to Mold Children Into Leaders

Although children who grow up too quickly might become hard workers, they also tend to burn out fast because they haven't practiced setting boundaries, McGeehan says. That's in contrast to "a kiddo who's had the opportunity to really explore themselves and has then been scaffolded or appropriately challenged through each developmental level," she adds.

Whether that child goes on to work in corporate America or run their own business, having the opportunity to explore and grow helps them navigate a critical question that will probably come up again and again: Is this something that I want?

"So they're going to choose a career path that they're more passionate about and [are] therefore much more inclined to climb the ladder, whatever that looks like for them," McGeehan says.

"It's such a stereotype, but it's also so true [and] backed up by research: that parents tend to be a lot stricter with the first child."

McGeehan works with many first-born, C-suite executives — in fact, they're "almost exclusively" who she sees in her office. That's for a few reasons, according to McGeehan, who also acknowledges that any generalizations about birth order and success are "painting with a broad brush" and may not resonate with everyone.

First, oldest siblings are typically "natural-born leaders," McGeehan says. From a young age, they're expected to set a good example for younger brothers and sisters and might help their parents accomplish certain tasks. Generally speaking, that translates to being more reliable and responsible in adulthood.

Related: 5 Benefits of Teaching Young Children About Entrepreneurship

Not only are oldest siblings typically better able to take accountability as adults, but they also tend to deal with critical feedback "a lot more effectively" than middle and youngest siblings, McGeehan says.

"It's such a stereotype, but it's also so true [and] backed up by research: that parents tend to be a lot stricter with the first child, and they relax as the years go on — for better and for worse," McGeehan explains.

"They're sort of fulfilling mom and dad's unfulfilled needs or desires."

But even though oldest siblings might be working hard as employees, executives or entrepreneurs, they may not exactly be passionate about their position, McGeehan says. "This isn't true for everyone," she admits, "but typically, they have chosen a career path that's sort of been paved for them. And so they're sort of fulfilling mom and dad's unfulfilled needs or desires."

Parents can help their oldest children achieve their potential without completely sacrificing passion in a couple of ways, McGeehan says. First, parents should confront any lingering issues from their own childhoods, then make sure they're differentiating themselves from their child — and refrain from labeling them a "mini-me."

Related: How to Raise Entrepreneurial Kids

What's more, parents should pay attention to their child's attributes and interests. For example, if they notice the child is a hard worker and want to push them to be the best they can be, leaning into the child's passion for art — and not forcing them to play a particular sport — can be a productive way to do that.

Because structure is important, McGeehan says — but so is trying to "hit the sweet spot" where the child can "lean into their work ethic without sort of cutting themselves off."

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a features writer at She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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