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Am Psychol. 2000 Jun;55(6):599-612.

Resolving the debate over birth order, family size, and intelligence.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Oklahoma, Norman 73019, USA.


Hundreds of research articles have addressed the relationship between birth order and intelligence. Virtually all have used cross-sectional data, which are fundamentally flawed in the assessment of within-family (including birth order) processes. Although within-family models have been based on patterns in cross-sectional data, a number of equally plausible between-family explanations also exist. Within-family (preferably intact-family) data are prerequisite for separating within- and between-family causal processes. This observation reframes an old issue in a way that can be easily addressed by studying graphical patterns. Sibling data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth are evaluated, and the results are compared with those from other studies using within-family data. It appears that although low-IQ parents have been making large families, large families do not make low-IQ children in modern U.S. society. The apparent relation between birth order and intelligence has been a methodological illusion.

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