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Explaining the Relation Between Birth Order and Intelligence
22 Jun, 2007 05:04 pm
The purposes of our study were to quantify the size of a birth order effect on IQ, if any, and to provide evidence that could support or oppose prevailing theories.
in social terms but second or third rank in biological terms and men who had second social rank in the family but were third born. Altogether, these men counted 4627. In the comparison we included 236 683 men of birth order one to three who had not experienced the early loss of an elder sibling. We examined for a social rank or biological rank effect on IQ adjusting for other factors of potential influence. We found that increasing social rank was associated with decreasing IQ whereas biological rank had no effect once social rank had been accounted for. The size of the rank effect was approximately 2 IQ units per rank unit.
The Science study is supported by another paper with the same objectives, in press in Intelligence journal where we compared brothers within families. The results of this study was more or less identical with the Science paper results. Both studies included approximately a quarter of a million young men from approx. 175 000 families who had been tested between 1985 and 2004, and were based on individual linkage in national registers (most important, the Medical Birth Registry of Norway and the National Conscripts Service registry of draft board examinations).
The size of the effect of birth order on IQ is small, but highly significant on the group level. It is, however, hard to draw consequences on the individual level from this. In our comparison
between brothers, we found that if two brothers had different scores, the probability would be 57% that the elder would have the higher score and 43% that the younger would have the higher score. This difference is not very predictive in my opinion.
As for the explanations: our research is based on register information, and it may be difficult to make inferences as to causes since have no data on details on parental personal resources and how the parents raise their children. However, we have sorted out the likelihood of some
alternative explanations, leaving interaction within the family as the most likely explanation. The alternative explanations that have been proposed are that this effect is an artefact or that the effect is biological (gestational). Both these possibilities have been weakened by
our research, in my opinion. Family interaction as the remaining explanation means that the first born has the advantage of getting all the attention of the parents until the next child comes. Later, the parents' resources have to be divided between two etc. Also the tutoring
effect that is an element in one of the family interaction theories (Zajonc's confluence model) may matter.
Petter Kristensen and Tor Bjerkedal, Explaining the Relation Between Birth Order and Intelligence, Science 22 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5832, p. 1717
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1: Hum Reprod. 1989 Oct;4(7):794-7. Links
Paternal age and mental functions of progeny in man.Auroux MR, Mayaux MJ, Guihard-Moscato ML, Fromantin M, Barthe J, Schwartz D.
Biologie de la Reproduction et du D?veloppement, CHU Bic?tre, Le Kremlin-Bic?tre, France.
The effects of maternal age on the quality of offspring are well known. Those due to the father's age are less obvious, apart from the role of increasing paternal age in the onset of many dominant autosomal disorders. But an experimental model has demonstrated that, in rats, increasing paternal age, without any other anomalies, might produce a decreased learning capacity in progeny. The object of the epidemiological investigation presented here was to verify whether this effect might also occur in man. The study involved the distribution of scores obtained in psychometric tests by 18-year-old male subjects, according to their father's age at the time of their birth. This distribution indicated not only that increasing paternal age is accompanied by effects similar to those observed in animals, but also that very young paternal age was also related to these effects. Thus, the curve of such scores produced an inverted U-shape, with maximum scores obtained when the father was about thirty years of age. Maternal age did not appear to play a part in this event. These results pose the problem of identifying genetic and/or psychosocial factors which might have an impact on the quality of the conceptus.
PMID: 2606957 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
[Response] Thanks for your interest in our work. The mean IQ was moderately higher for sons of fathers older than 30 (as is the case for maternal age, which we controlled for). There was no sign of a "vast" paternal age effect in our study, although the mean score was lower among sons of teenage fathers . The possibility for dominant autosomal disorders as you mention might be right, but will have little measurable impact on the population means in our study. Adjusting for paternal age once maternal age was adjusted for had only marginal impact. Sincerely Petter Kristensen