Study: Are Middle Kids More Likely to Become Criminals?

Study: Are Middle Kids More Likely to Become Criminals?

Have you always thought of your second child as a troublemaker compared to your oldest child?

Do you feel your second child is something of a rebel? Or maybe it’s your own sibling who was a bit of a wild child. Regardless, it is common knowledge that children from the same parents can be remarkably different in personality and character. Researchers in the past have even established that one of the key second child characteristics is that they are “born to rebel.”   

Second Child Characteristics: Born to Rebel?

A few years ago, scientists discovered behaviour that parents have commonly observed: Children who were born first were more obedient, while younger siblings were more independent, seeking adventure and change.

A researcher named Sulloway also found similar results in 1996. He theorises that second children have to compete for parental affection and resources. Hence, they are not afraid to rebel, are open to radical change, and take risks. Such observations add to growing evidence that birth order is critical in developing children’s personalities. 

second child characteristics

Defiance, whether verbal or silent, is a typical sign of rebelling. | Image source: file photos

However, parents, did you know that birth order may pave the way to delinquency? In this article, we discuss that certain second child characteristics may predispose them to cause trouble. 

Second Child Characteristics: What Current Research Says

Recently, a study from the Massachusets Institute of Technology discussed that second child characteristics tend to influence their delinquency. In other words, second-born kids are more likely to become criminals! The paper studied data from Denmark and Florida — two culturally distinct regions — and yet, still found consistent trends.

The authors explain that “In families with two or more children, when compared to first born boys, second-born boys are 20 to 40 percent likelier to commit crimes. They are likelier to undergo disciplinary action in school and and later enter the criminal justice system.”  

Less Parental Investment in the Second Child

Why does this happen?

The authors continue: “We discovered that health differences at birth and school quality did not affect delinquency. However, we found that parental time investment higher for first-borns aged two to four years old. This suggests that the arrival of a second-born child extends early-childhood parental investments for first-borns. This is an added bonus for the first borns, as they experience undivided attention until the arrival of the second-born.”

The authors imply that first-borns spend more time with parents, who invest in their development. As a result, they are likelier to be moulded into maturity. Middle kids, in contrast, receive less attention from their parents compared with their older sibling.

There are many reasons for this, such as:

  • Competing with careers. Parents take more time off work with only a first child compared to when they have their second child. Hence, second-borns have to compete for their parents’ attention from the first borns, but also from their careers and other responsibilities.
  • Looking up to the wrong people. Whereas first-borns see their parents as their role models, second-borns might misbehave more because they look up to their older sibling and want their attention. They may even look up to a toddler, a school-age child, or someone naturally more impulsive and egotistical as a role model.
  • Parents playing less with the second child. In the study, many parents reported being less eager about interacting with younger children. They engaged less in bedtime stories, crafts and instrument playing.
  • Mothers not being as stringent with themselves during subsequent pregnancies. These mums may have drank alcohol and smoked, which could contribute to adverse outcomes for their babies, as well.
second child characteristics

Smoking can affect your children’s behaviour, too. Source: Stock photos

Will My Second-Born Child Become a Criminal?

Good news, parents. Just because a study says so doesn’t mean that second child characteristics are set in stone. Even the authors of the MIT study admitted that their findings aren’t conclusive.

Rather, more research needs to be done in determining other possible factors besides parental influence. Looking toward the future, the authors conclude that “These results have important implications for social policy. Crime, delinquency, and incarceration incur massive social costs such as the loss of human potential human potential.”

Parents will also be relieved to know that National Public Radio’s Social Science Correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, assures that second child crime sprees are not a significant concern. Even with large statistics, the overall numbers remain small. “Only a minority of kids — possibly one in 20 — are getting in serious trouble,” Vedantam said. 

Parents, what matters in the end is how you run your family. Although research might hint that birth order can affect a child’s tendency to delinquency, remember that how you parent is key

Treat Kids Fairly

Stay Home Activities in June

By giving your children equal amounts of attention and investment, you might just reduce the possibility of them slipping down the path of delinquency. Note that equal treatment is NOT the same as fair treatment — all children need to suffer the same consequences. Here are some tips: 

  • Listen to your children if they are craving your attention. However, don’t apologise for your actions. Instead, accept what they’re trying to say but stand firm on your decision.  
  • Do NOT tell them that life is not fair. They probably already know that anyway. If they do argue back that you’re not treating them fairly, ignore them. Don’t talk back and return to what you were working on before. Your kids will sulk for a while, but will likely obey your previous instructions. 
  • When everyone is cool-headed, ask your child for input on coping better with the sulking. Let them come up with creative solutions. 
  • If your child accuses you of not giving her attention, offer it to her, say, by a setting a special time for each other. 
  • Promise them that spending time differently with each of them isn’t equivalent to not loving them equally.  

Mums, we at theAsianparent hope that these methods will help your children mature better and avoid the path to delinquency. Hopefully, they might just lighten your load, especially with the tantrums.


References: NBER,,, Reader’s Digest, the Telegraph UK, NPR,

ALSO READ: 9 things you didn’t know about birth order


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