Birth Order Theory of Entrepreneurship

Birth order theory is the construction of 1950's psychoanalysts (think Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler) who posited that when (the timing) an individual is born, in relation to the birth of siblings, shapes experiences and personalities. Birth order is laden with so much cultural meaning both within families and in societies in general, that it guides psychological development.

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).


Emekadavid said…
The birth order theory is believed in many cultures. It has stood the test of time although it has different variations according to one's culture. I loved your piece about it.
Anonymous said…
This theory is very intriguing and I think it holds very solid ground in validity. From personal experiences, I believe we can all see the apparent differences in each of our own families. Even through media we can see this theory in effect. Great write up, it was fascinating!
Anonymous said…
I had never heard of this theory before but found it very fascinating. I never realized the kind of cultural meaning something like this could have. Great work.
Unknown said…
I have some faith in the birth order theory. It could be because I am number 6 out of 6 so being "The baby". has always been my place. I seek attention and am the comedian. I'm light hearted and passive. This article is great and thought provocking. Thanks for the insight!
Shlumpledink said…
Birth order theory is definitely true of my family. Is it designed around the structure of having 3 children only? What about families with less than 3, or more than 3?
Anonymous said…
This is such an interesting theory and it fits almost perfectly into my family dynamics. I am the second born child and relate to much of what they say about the traits that come with that. I never realized that this was a cultural phenomenon and not just our family relationships/personalities. Good write up!
Sierra said…
The birth order theory is undeniably true in my own family. I have 3 brothers and I am in the middle. Each of us fits with the personality that this theory says we might have. I wonder how I might uphold or challenge it with raising my own children.
Anonymous said…
This holds so true within my family dealing with birth order. I am the oldest and there is so much more responsibility on my end regarding family and traditions carried through.I think that this article is great and gives excellent and valid points to those in a family unit with siblings.

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