URC

Birth Order and Impact on College Major Choice

Jennifer Cramer
Ashley Dilling
Brittney Hockemeyer
Joshua Nicholson

Huntington University

Keywords: birth order, personality, college, major choice, career

Abstract

This study examines the correlation of birth order and choice of college major. It was hypothesized that ones position of birth within the family has an impact on college major choice. Participants were juniors and seniors from a small liberal arts university located in the Midwest. These participants completed a web-based survey consisting of questions about family constellations and college information. We used a χ² test to analyze the data. After collecting and analyzing the data using several crosstabulations, we were unable to support our hypothesis.

Birth Order and Impact on College Major Choice

In society today, more and more people have the opportunity and motivation to attend college. Colleges offer a variety of majors, and each area of study brings in numerous students each year. Why do individuals choose the majors they do? Birth order is a topic that has been studied widely, namely by Adler (1870-1937) and Holland (1919-2008). Does birth order affect choice of college major?

The concept of birth order has been shown to have influence in many different areas. One article looked into the impact that birth order has not only on the family but each individual in the family. The study looked at not only actual birth order but also the spacing between the children. The conclusion that the study came to was that birth order within the family as well as spacing between the children has an impact on personality development (Gugl & Welling, 2010).

Many studies have identified different personality types based on an individual’s birth order. The research found that youngest siblings tend to be more extraverted while oldest siblings tend to be less extraverted. Researchers have found that birth order not only plays a role on personality but also on decision making. The studies looked at decisions that children made such as the people that they choose for friends and involvement in activities (Hartshorne, 2010; Pollet, Dijkstra, Batelds, et. al, 2010; Herrera, Zajonc, Wieczorkowska, et al., 2003; Eckstein, 2000).

Other research found that birth order played a role on not only personality differences but motivation and performance levels. Three other studies looked at achievement levels and intelligence levels based on birth order. There were mutual findings indicating that first-borns tend to be higher in achievement as well as intelligence levels. They also found that the youngest sibling, or last born, is the one that does not worry about achievement nor take pride in achievement (Fergusson, Horwood, & Boden, 2006; Phillips & Phillips, 2000; Wark, Swanson, & Mack, 1974).

Family size, birth order, and spacing all play a part on personality development. One important area of development that birth order impacts is creativity. The conclusion of the study was that creativity is stifled if the spacing between siblings is not more than five years. The older sibling tended to be overburdened with watching out for their younger siblings. Therefore, younger siblings tend to be more creative, which could lead to younger children choosing college majors that enhance their creativity (Baer, Oldham, et. al, 2005).

Three of the articles researched birth order and career choices. These studies looked at the percentage of children who were first born and categorized them based on their occupational and major choice. The majority within each position of birth had similarities. First-borns tended to choose similar majors and occupations. Each of these articles also saw a correlation between personality types and career and major choices. The personality type received from birth order greatly impacts decision making when it comes to careers and college majors (Gati, Gadassi, et. al, 2011; Pike, 2006; Herrera, Zajonc, et. al, 2003).

Extensive research has been conducted on the influence of birth order and post-secondary decisions. There are many motivators that influence children to attend college. One study came to the conclusion that first born children are more pressured to attend college, which would impact future decisions (“Birth order may…”, 2002). Similarly, other researchers examined pressure and birth order. Their conclusion was that first-borns not only feel more pressure, but they also feel more pressure for success in careers and schooling (Feldt & Woelfel, 2009).

Another study examined Holland’s personality theory and found that birth order impacted career choices. Holland’s personality theory suggests that certain personality types tend to choose certain career choices. It was found that younger siblings tend to look up to the first born when they make decisions. The decision to go to college is a decision that they will follow, but then personality will influence their major choice. Certain positions in birth order not only impact the career choice but the environment that the person chooses for work. These findings have helped career counselors to understand the implications that birth order has on career choices (Toomey, Levinson, & Palmer, 2009; Kniveton, 2004).

After reviewing the literature, our hypothesis is that the position of birth within your family does have an impact on college major choice. There is no prediction of which personality types will choose which major but general associations of birth order and college major choice are predicted.

Method

Participants

A total of 146 college students with junior or senior status from the population of a liberal arts university in northeastern Indiana were surveyed. Respondents answered an online instrument distributed via email to the junior and senior status students at the given institution. Of the sample, 67.8 percent were female and 32.2 percent were male. The responses were almost evenly distributed among juniors and seniors, with a slight lean toward junior respondents. Responses were collected from 81 junior respondents and 62 senior respondents (56.6% and 43.4%, respectively).

Measures

The comparison between birth order and choice of college major was assessed using BOCM (Birth-Order, College Major) Survey. This survey was created by our research team to collect data pertaining to birth order and choice of college major. Our survey was loosely based upon the Birth Order Questionnaire, which was used in a similar survey of midwestern college students in 2004 (Nakatsuji). Our instrument (BOCM) consisted of eleven questions, surveying demographic information (age, gender, and junior/senior classification), family constellation, and choice of college major and future career plans (see Appendix A). As there are no existing surveys tailored to our specific research question, the reliability and validity of this measure is undetermined.

Procedure

Surveys were administered via an online software program, SurveyMonkey.com. Participants received an email explaining briefly the purpose of our study, assuring confidentiality, and requesting participation. The link to our survey was placed directly in the email for convenience. In addition to the survey items, demographic information was requested, including age and gender. The data were collected using Survey Monkey and organized for analysis using SPSS. We conducted a chi-square test to determine the relationship between birth order and choice of college major. Two further cross-tabs were run to analyze broader categories of study against birth order.

Results

A chi-square analysis was used to examine similarities. An alpha level of .05 was used to determine the level of significance. Our initial cross-tab was the birth order against specific majors listed on the survey. The level of significance was .542. In an effort to determine significance between broadened areas of study, we ran two additional cross-tabs with variables collapsed categorically. The second level of significance discovered was .329. No significant association was found between the birth order and college major choice. The level for the final cross-tab was .419 (Appendix B). The research team failed to reject the null hypothesis.

Table 1. Collapsed Catalog * Birth order (Select appropriate response) Crosstabulation

 

Birth order (Select appropriate response)

Total

Middle

Oldest

Only

Youngest

Collapsed Catalog

 

Count

0

0

0

1

1

% within Collapsed Catalog

.0%

.0%

.0%

100.0%

100.0%

Arts

Count

5

11

5

6

27

% within Collapsed Catalog

18.5%

40.7%

18.5%

22.2%

100.0%

Business

Count

1

5

0

3

9

% within Collapsed Catalog

11.1%

55.6%

.0%

33.3%

100.0%

Communication

Count

0

1

0

3

4

% within Collapsed Catalog

.0%

25.0%

.0%

75.0%

100.0%

Communication

Count

1

5

0

1

7

% within Collapsed Catalog

14.3%

71.4%

.0%

14.3%

100.0%

Education

Count

8

10

0

4

22

% within Collapsed Catalog

36.4%

45.5%

.0%

18.2%

100.0%

English

Count

2

2

0

1

5

% within Collapsed Catalog

40.0%

40.0%

.0%

20.0%

100.0%

History

Count

1

1

0

0

2

% within Collapsed Catalog

50.0%

50.0%

.0%

.0%

100.0%

Recreation

Count

0

0

0

2

2

% within Collapsed Catalog

.0%

.0%

.0%

100.0%

100.0%

Religion

Count

5

9

0

5

19

% within Collapsed Catalog

26.3%

47.4%

.0%

26.3%

100.0%

Science

Count

6

5

2

6

19

% within Collapsed Catalog

31.6%

26.3%

10.5%

31.6%

100.0%

Social Sciences

Count

5

12

3

6

26

% within Collapsed Catalog

19.2%

46.2%

11.5%

23.1%

100.0%

Total

Count

34

61

10

38

143

% within Collapsed_Catalog

23.8%

42.7%

7.0%

26.6%

100.0%


Table 2. Chi-Square Tests

 

Value

df

Asymp. Sig. (2-sided)

Pearson Chi-Square

34.012a

33

.419

Likelihood Ratio

36.824

33

.296

N of Valid Cases

143

 

 

a. 35 cells (72.9%) have expected count less than 5. The minimum expected count is .07.

Discussion

No significant association was found between birth order and college major choice. This study compiled data through convenience sampling via an online instrument. The BOCM was distributed to students with junior or senior status through campus email. Although the study did not report significant findings, this research has implications for career counselors and future research endeavors.

The results of this study may lead one to the notion that the theories of Adler and Holland do not apply to the choice of college major. Our findings fail to support the findings of Kniveton (2004). Our sample size compared to Kniveton’s was not as diverse and was much smaller. Kniveton’s study also focused a great deal on the implications of personality that stem from birth order, which we did not. We focused exclusively on actual birth order instead of psychological birth order.

The sample of this study was not representative among the majors offered at the institution. Majors such as psychology and animation each had over ten respondents. Other majors had less than ten, and several had only one respondent. We believe that a more representative sample would have possibly given us different results. Although the sample size as a whole (146 respondents) was significant, the representation from each major was not large enough to show significance. Perhaps the characteristics the university chosen for the study had an impact. The university is rather expensive, which is more appealing to higher income individuals who also tend to have fewer children. The sum of middle and youngest children were equivalent to the total of oldest and only children. Therefore, the middle and youngest categories of birth order were under represented. According to theorists, oldest and only children are known to be the highest achievers. This may lead to a higher population of oldest and only children on campus and to the fact that a high proportion of survey respondents were the oldest or only children.

As with any study, there are problems associated with the method. Three surveys had to be discarded because participants were able to skip important questions on the survey. However, the simplicity of an online survey was more efficient than distributing a paper instrument. Another limitation of the survey was that it dealt exclusively with chronological birth order and not psychological birth order.

Future research should include some instrument to indicate psychological birth order. Perhaps a simplified version of Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon’s MMPI (1905) could be used for this purpose. A larger, more representative sample would be more beneficial to potential studies as well.

As higher education becomes more of a necessity in society, we believe that the populations of universities will become more representative of family constellations. Because of this necessity, we may expect to see more youngest and middle children who are characterized through Holland’s theory as having lower-achieving personality types. Further research in both psychological and chronological birth order would be beneficial in coming years.

References

August, 2002. Birth order may affect career interests. USA Today Magazine, 131 ( 2687: 11). Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed January 27, 2011). 

Baer, M., Oldham, G. R., Hollingshead, A. B., & Jacobsohn, G. (2005). Revisiting the birth order-creativity connection: The role of sibling constellation. Creativity Research Journal, 17(1), 67-77. doi: 10.1207/s15326934crj1701_6

Eckstein, D. (2000). Empirical studies indicating significant birth-order-related personality differences. Journal of Individual Psychology, 56 40, 481. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Feldt, R. C., &Woelfel, C. (2009). Five-factor personality domains, self-efficacy, career-outcome expectations, and career indecision. College Student Journal, 43(2), 429-437. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L., & Boden, J. M. (2006). Birth order and educational achievement in adolescence and young adulthood. Australian Journal of Education, 50(2), 122-139. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Gati, I., Gadassi, R., Saka, N., Hadadi, Y., Ansenberg, N., & Friedmann, R. (2011). Emotional and personality-related aspects of career decision-making difficulties: Facets of career indecisiveness. Journal of Career Assessment, 19(1), 3-20. doi: 10.1177/1069072710382525

Gugl, E., & Welling, L. (2010). The early bird gets the worm? Birth order effects in a dynamic family model. Economic Inquiry, 48 3, 690-703. doi:10.1111/j.1465-7295.2009.00214.x

Hartshorne, J. K. (2010). Ruled by birth order? Scientific American Mind, 20(7), 18-19. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Herrera, N. C., Zajonc, R. B., Wieczorkowska, G., & Cichomski, B. (2003). Beliefs about birth rank and their reflection in reality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(1), 142-150. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.1.142

Kniveton, B.H. (2004). The influences and motivations on which students base their choice of career. Research in Education, 72, 47-59. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Nakatsuji, S. (2004). The effect of birth order on students’ choice of college major. Hanover College Psychology Department. Retrieved March 1, 2011, from psych.hanover.edu/department/youngst/IS/Shoko%20IS.doc

Pike, G. (2006). Students’ personality types, intended majors, and college expectations: Further evidence concerning psychological and sociological interpretations of Holland’s theory. Research in Higher Education, 47(7), 801-822. doi: 10.1007/s11162-006-9016-5

Phillips, A. S., & Phillips, C. R. (2000). Birth-order differences in self-attributions for achievement. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 56(4), 474-480. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Pollet, T. V., Dijkstra, P., Batelds, D. H., & Buunk, A. P. (2010). Birth order and the dominance aspect of extraversion: Are firstborns more extraverted, in the sense of being dominant, than laterborns? Journal of Research in Personality, 44(6), 742-745. Doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2010.10.002

Toomey, K. D., Levinson, E. M., & Palmer, E. J. (2009). A test of Holland's theory of vocational personalities and work environments. Journal of Employment Counseling, 46(2), 82-93. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Wark, D. M., Swanson, E. O., & Mack, J. (1974). More on birth order: Intelligence and college plans. Journal of Individual Psychology (00221805), 30(2), 221. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.


Appendix A 

Demographic Information 

  1. Gender (Select appropriate response)
    a. Male
    b. Female
  2. Age (Select from the drop-down box)
  3. Year in college (Select appropriate response)
    a. Junior
    b. Senior
  4. Birth order (Select appropriate response)
    a. Oldest
    b. Middle
    c. Youngest
    d. Only
  5. List all siblings and their ages
  6. Are you a multiple? (Twin, Triplet, etc.)
    a. Yes
    b. No
  7. Please specify.
    a. Twin
    b. Triplet
    c. Quadruplet
    d. Other (Please Specify)
  8. If your multiple is in college, what is their major? (Please select from drop-down menu)
  9. What is/are your major(s)? (Please select from drop-down menu)
  10. What is the reason for choosing your major? (Please type a brief response below)
  11. What are your post-graduate plans? (Please select appropriate response)
    a. Master’s degree
    b. Career related to major
    c. Career not related to major
    d. Other (Please specify)


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