A firstborn (also known as an eldest child) is the first child born to in the birth order of a couple through childbirth. Historically, the role of the first born child has been socially significant, particularly for a first born son in patriarchal societies. In law, many systems have incorporated the concept of primogeniture, wherein the first-born child inherits their parent's property. The firstborn in Judaism, the bechor, is also accorded a special position.
While an only child will by definition also always be the "firstborn", in larger families the firstborn often perceives himself or herself to be treated differently from later children. Alfred Adler (1870–1937), an Austrian psychiatrist, and a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, was one of the first theorists to suggest that birth order influences personality. He argued that birth order can leave an indelible impression on an individual's style of life, which is one's habitual way of dealing with the tasks of friendship, love, and work. According to Adler, firstborns are "dethroned" when a second child comes along, and this may have a lasting influence on them. Younger and only children may be pampered and spoiled, which can also affect their later personalities.
Birth order, and the role of the firstborn, can become complicated in non-nuclear families, with situations such as parents of one child or set of children separating from each other and entering relationships with other people, and then having children with their new partners. In such instances, the first child born in the new relationship may be considered the firstborn for that couple, even though it may not be the first child born to either partner in the couple.
- Adler, A. (1964). Problems of neurosis. New York: Harper and Row.
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