Birth Order Theory of Entrepreneurship

The Birth Order Theory is a psychological theory that suggests that the order in which individuals are born in relation to their siblings has a significant impact on their personality development and experiences throughout their lives. This theory was popularized by psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler in the 1950s and has since become a widely studied and debated topic in the field of psychology.

According to the Birth Order Hypothesis, depending on their position in the birth order, each child in a family goes through a different set of conditions and experiences. For instance, it's well knowledge that first-born children are more mature and goal-oriented, whereas younger siblings may be more inventive and rebellious. Only children may be more self-assured and egocentric, but middle children are regarded to be more autonomous and adaptable.

The Birth Order Theory suggests that these differences in personality and behaviour can be traced back to the unique experiences and expectations associated with each position in the birth order. For example, first-born children may receive more attention and pressure to succeed from their parents, while younger siblings may receive more freedom and less pressure to conform.

Additionally, birth order is also heavily influenced by cultural norms and expectations surrounding family dynamics. In some cultures, for example, the first-born son is given special privileges and responsibilities, while in others, the youngest child is considered the favourite.

Robinson and Hunt (1992) quote Rychlak (1981:145) summary the typical logic behind birth order theories as follows:

"In a multiple-child family, the firstborn child not only becomes a great believer in power, but as an adult he or she is more likely than other children in the home to have a conservative, conforming outlook, to be a 'regular citizen' and a conventional individual. The second-born child is likely to feel a sense of challenge in the family constellation. . . If a second-born child has any talent, we are more likely to see this offspring develop it than the others because of the child's probable life style of trying to excel in some way... In any case, we expect to see a lot of drive in the second-born and less authority-proneness than in the firstborn child. The reckless kid brother, who is willing to 'take any dare' and likes to break the rules, nicely meets the picture of a second-born child."

The birth order theory of entrepreneurship has persisted despite criticisms (Hirsric and Brush, 1983; Robinson and Hunt, 1992; Watkins and Watkins, 1983).

  • No empirical support for the theory once family income and size are considered.
  • Since different cultures give different meanings to birth order, the theory is unlikely to predict anything cross-culturally. 
  • A birth order theories of entrepreneurship is useless for helping entrepreneurship educators and practitioners. It is actually nothing but discouraging, as individuals have no control over their birth order. 

Robinson, P. B., and Keith Hunt, H. (1992). Entrepreneurship and birth order: Fact or folklore. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 4(3), 287-298.

Hisrich, R. D., and Brush, C. G. (1983). The woman entrepreneur: Implications of family, educational, and occupational experience. Frontiers of entrepreneurship research, 255-270.

Watkins, J. M., and Watkins, D. S. (1983). The female entrepreneur: Her background and determinants of business choice-some British data. Frontiers of entrepreneurship research, 271-288.

Rychlak, J. F. 1981, Introduction to Personality and Psychotherapy: A Theory-Construction Approach, 2nd edition(Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company).

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