Many advantages come with being a first-born child. First-borns tend to make more money than their younger siblings; they are more likely to earn advanced degrees, and they have slightly better odds of becoming presidents, prime ministers, and Nobel laureates. They even have longer life expectancy than later-born siblings.
There is yet another advantage: First-born children show better second language skills than later-born children. At least this was the finding of new research in last month’s issue of Frontiers in Psychology.
The study, led by Dr. Karin Keller of Switzerland’s University of Basel, examined the second language skills of 1209 immigrant children between the ages of two-and-a-half and three from Switzerland’s German-speaking region of Basel. The study was administered via mail; parents filled out a survey asking them to assess their child’s German language ability. They also reported demographic information such as how many other children were in the household, birth order, number of books in the household, and parental language skills.
The findings of the study are as the following. First, children with more siblings exhibited worse second language skills than children with fewer siblings. This makes some sense; one might imagine that larger immigrant families are more likely to propagate the communication styles of their home country. Furthermore, more children means less time for parents to develop their children’s second language abilities.
Second, the researchers found that first-born children exhibited a minor, but statistically significant, advantage in their second language abilities.
When explaining the causes for the language ability differences, the researchers suggest that the differences have more to do with environmental factors. They cite a “resource dilution model”, in which first-born children benefit from a greater parental resource investment. The researchers write, “Every additional sibling means a reduction in the share of resources allocated to each child, thus reducing the foundations of their intellectual development.”
Keller and her team of researchers, however, were quick to put this finding in context. They note that the effect is quite small; they were only able to find it because of the study’s large sample size. Furthermore, exposure to early education institutions offset the effect of birth order on second language acquisition. This, in the researchers’ minds, is the key takeaway from this study.
Keller and her colleagues write, “Considering that families from immigrant backgrounds have fewer financial resources, and that these resources influence the children’s level of development. It seems all the more important that immigrant families with many children are financially supported so that their children are offered the best opportunities possible for their academic careers. Given the results of this study, promoting the attendance of early education institutions is an efficient way of achieving this goal.”
6. What do we know about first-born children?
7. What does the study of Dr. Karin Keller find?
8. What is one of the reasons for language ability differences between first-borns and later-borns?
9. What is the important information from the study according to the researchers?
10. What is suggested to help the immigrant families?