The birth order paradox: sibling differences in educational attainment

Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 56–65 (2018)
Open Access


This study uses population register data to examine the relationship between birth order and educational attainment in Sweden, and demonstrates that while the net effect of birth order on educational attainment is negative, later-born children often spend longer in education. The explanation for this finding is due to educational expansion in Sweden in the 20th century, which outweighs the negative causal effect of birth order for the affected cohorts. This is particularly true for women due to the fact that the rate of increasing educational enrolment has been greater for women than for men. These results also show that later-borns in large families particularly benefit from educational expansion due to the longer average birth interval between the first and last child in large families, meaning that the supply of educational opportunities increased to a greater extent in the intervening period. However, in periods where education is not expanding, later-born siblings continue to fare worse than first-borns.

Das Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung (MPIDR) in Rostock ist eines der international führenden Zentren für Bevölkerungswissenschaft. Es gehört zur Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, einer der weltweit renommiertesten Forschungsgemeinschaften.