Scientists at the University of Edinburgh say that firstborn children are more intelligent than their brothers and sisters because of parent stimulation in their early years. A study found that they scored higher in IQ tests from as young as one year old.

'Precious firstborn syndrome'

Parenting sites refer to it as “precious firstborn syndrome” – when intense, first-time parents play Mozart to their child, agonize about reading choices, or enrol in multiple baby classes.

Some go as far as talking about “neglected second children” to highlight the different parental attitudes towards firstborns and their younger siblings.

A teacher writes on a blackboard during class at a public school in Madrid, March 28, 2012. Spain will announce some of its deepest budget cuts ever on Friday, though evaporating growth prospects mean it is likely to fall short of what is needed to meet strict public deficit targets. Cuts in public education have sparked nationwide protests and more cuts are likely to be handed down by autonomous regions after the newly installed conservative central government presents its 2012 budget on Friday.  REUTERS/Sergio Perez (SPAIN - Tags: EDUCATION BUSINESS SOCIETY POLITICS) - RTR3005W
Image: REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Changing behaviour of parents

The research, carried out by economists at Edinburgh University, the Analysis Group and a team from Sydney University, is based on the children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which monitored 5,000 American children from pre-birth to age 14.

The children were assessed every two years in an array of tests, such as reading, vocabulary, maths and comprehension. The study also accounted for the parents’ background, economic conditions and other factors.

The research revealed that parents changed their behaviour as they had more children, spending less time on reading, crafts and playing musical instruments. Mothers also took more risks, such as smoking during pregnancy with subsequent children.

Iana Williams, 8, who is homeless, reads a book at a School on Wheels' after-school program in Los Angeles, February 9, 2012. School on Wheels provides tutoring and educational mentoring to homeless children. A recent report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that California's population of homeless families increased by five percent between 2009 and 2011. It is estimated that there are over 300,000 homeless children in California.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION SOCIETY) - RTR2XKVW
Image: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Emotional support stays the same

Although parents gave the same level of emotional support to all their kids, they tended to help firstborns more with brain-stimulating tasks, the study found.

Ana Nuevo-Chiquero, who led the research said: “It doesn’t mean firstborns get more love – that stays the same. But they get more attention, especially in those important formative years.

“As the household gets bigger time has to be split with younger children so they miss out on the advantage of being an ‘only child’ for a time.”

The findings published in the Journal of Human Resources seem to confirm other studies about birth order that give the edge to older siblings. There is a long-running debate about eldest children doing better at school and being more successful later in life.