Why Kate Middleton was destined to outshine Pippa

The Duchess of Cambridge being older than Pippa(pictured together at Sam Waley-Cohen and Annabel Ballin’s wedding) may be because she’s taller

Ever wondered why you’re shorter and less successful than your brother? Or why your sister never seems to put on weight, but you do? The answer could lie in whether you are a first-born, middle child or youngest sibling.

Research shows that our life chances are moulded in extraordinary ways from day one — depending on where you sit in the family order. It could explain why the Duchess of Cambridge is taller than her sister Pippa, how David Cameron became Prime Minister — and why Beyonce was destined for stardom.

In a study published last week by Edinburgh University, first-born children were found to display more intelligence than their younger siblings. Other studies show they are also likely to be taller and to live longer.

Scientists have also discovered that middle children are the most likely to achieve high political office, while the youngest are more likely than their older brothers and sisters to seek stardom on stage or screen.

Decades of in-depth investigation has produced a wealth of data that reveals exactly how the odds are stacked for every one of us, as JOHN NAISH reveals…

Intelligence first 

In IQ tests, first-borns score between 1.5 and 2 points higher, on average, than second-born children, according to studies of more than 270,000 siblings by psychologists in Germany and Norway.

This finding, confirmed by the Edinburgh study, seems to be a result of parents investing more time and effort in their precious firstborns — stimulating their mental development through talking, reading, music and play.

Further research uncovers that if a first-born dies in infancy, the second-born child’s IQ rises to match that of their lost sibling, as parental attention is transferred to them.

In theory, all this should mean that Britain is getting brighter, as smaller families mean 40 per cent of people in the UK are first-borns.

In IQ tests, first-borns score between 1.5 and 2 points higher, on average, than second-born children (file image)

Height advantage 

First-borns tend to be taller than their second, third and fourth siblings, by 0.4cm, 0.7cm and 0.8 cm respectively, according to a Swedish study.

This, too, may be due to greater parental investment in early children, including ensuring they eat a good, balanced diet.

The top jobs

First-borns’ slight lead in IQ grows into a huge advantage in educational opportunities, making them 16 per cent more likely to go on to higher education than their siblings, says Dr Feifei Bu, social researcher at Essex University.

First-borns go on to claim 43 per of senior boardroom roles, while youngest siblings occupy only 23 per cent. Eldest children also hold a disproportionately high number of posts as surgeons.

Surprisingly, first-borns are also more than 3.5 times more likely than their siblings to become rock stars, according to a survey of leading UK personalities past and present by the British statistician Dr Geoff Ellis.

It is thought the extra attention lavished on them could give be what gives these first-borns the confidence they need to become stars. 

Beyoncé, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney are all prime examples.

Beyoncé and Mick Jagger are all prime examples of eldest siblings who had the confidence to become stars


Statistician Dr Ellis has found that only-children are least likely to become self-made millionaires. This is most likely because they’ve not grown up with the competitive desire to outdo siblings, which drives entrepreneurs.

In the earnings stakes, first-borns again enjoy an initial advantage. Thanks to their better education, they earn 14 per cent more than their siblings in their first jobs.

The good news for younger brothers and sisters is that their earnings tend to catch up after ten years in the workplace, says a report last year by Italian researchers in the journal Demography.

It says that later-born children are more likely than firstborns to switch jobs in pursuit of better pay, in order to emulate the example set by their eldest sibling.

Miss Pushy

Sharp-elbowed, first-born girls are 13 per cent more ambitious than first-born boys, Dr Bu’s research shows. 

In surveys, they were significantly more likely to say that they were aiming to pursue higher education — and then the top jobs that follow. Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and JK Rowling are all female first-borns.

Angela Merkel, JK Rowling and Hillary Clinton are both female first-borns who have aimed high in life

Eye strain

Eldest children are 10 per cent more likely to suffer myopia than younger siblings, and 20 per cent more likely to develop it severely, a 2015 survey of 89,000 middle-aged Britons found.

This appears to be a negative effect of having pushy parents

Having to spend lots of time indoors as a child poring over schoolbooks is a known risk factor for myopia, says Professor Jeremy Guggenheim, of the Cardiff School of Optometry and Visual Sciences.

The suggestion is that by spending more time indoors, they are deprived of sunlight, which is important for eye development.

Under pressure

Having a younger sibling can raise hypertension risk, says Wu Zeng, research scientist at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

He says that children find the arrival of a younger sibling stressful because they have to vie for parental attention.

Interestingly, the effect is more pronounced with a little brother than a younger sister. Having a younger brother can raise blood pressure by up to 5.9 per cent, while a younger sister results in an increase of 3.8 per cent.

Fat or slim 

Princess Eugenie (pictured at a UNAIDS Gala last year) will be glad to hear second-borns are 29 per cent less likely to be overweight 

Second-born females are 29 per cent less likely to be overweight, and 40 per cent less likely to be obese than their older sisters — something that will come as welcome news to famous younger sisters Pippa Middleton and Princess Eugenie.

This was established in a study of more than 13,000 sisters by New Zealand’s Auckland University.

The reason may lie in what happened in the womb, says Professor Wayne Cutfield.

The endocrinologist says womb development in later pregnancies means second babies may receive a better supply of nutrients from their mothers.

This, in turn, helps their growing bodies to learn to control levels of fat and glucose .

Only-children tend to be fatter — perhaps due to a lack of playmates, according to researchers at Sweden’s Gothenburg University.

Dr Monica Hunsberger, the dietitian who led the research, says: ‘Only children play outside less often than bigger families, and are more likely to have televisions in their bedrooms.’


Second-born children are around 50 per cent more likely to be hospitalised after trying alcohol or narcotics, reports a major study by the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The problem is worst when these siblings are in their late teens, and tends to tail off afterwards.

Younger brothers in particular are more likely to take risks — for example, playing more sport than their more cautious first-born siblings, according to a study of 700 young sibling athletes in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.

Younger siblings were found to be three times more likely to be successful sports players — but also ten times more likely to take physical risks, and 50 per cent more likely to visit AE with an injury.

World leaders

Although traditionally assumed to be most deprived of attention, middle children’s formative experiences teach them to be diplomatic and competitive, believes Katrin Schumann, author of The Secret Power Of Middle Children. The American educational consultant’s research shows that middle children are 67 per cent more likely than other siblings to reach the highest political jobs.

Prime ministers tend to come from large families of between three and six children, which may have forced them to hone their competitive and flexible natures.

Donald Trump, David Cameron, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are middle children, as were Anthony Eden and David Lloyd George. (Only child Theresa May is an exception.)

Political leaders Donald Trump, David Cameron, Tony Blair are all middle children within their families


Younger siblings were most likely to say they were the funniest members of their family, a YouGov poll found.

And youngest children are most likely to head for stardom on stage and screen, research by the British statistician Dr Geoff Ellis has found. (Renowned examples include Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts, Daniel Day-Lewis and Judi Dench.)

Dr Ellis believes that being the youngest fosters personality traits such as attention-seeking, risk-taking, persistence and humour.

Julia Roberts is a youngest child who has now made it on the big screen, which research suggests was far more likely being the baby of the family

And tears…

But there may also be something of the tragic artist in youngest siblings: studies show they are at highest risk of killing themselves.

Your risk of suicide increases by 18 per cent with each step further down the birth order you are, according to a Swedish survey. Interestingly, babies born shortly after another have an even higher risk, according to a report in the American Journal of Epidemiology.