The Birth Order Paradox: Sibling Differences in Educational Attainment

Kieron Barclay, Stockholm University

This study uses population register data to examine the relationship between birth order and educational attainment in Sweden, and demonstrates that while the causal effect of birth order on educational attainment is negative, later born children actually perform better. 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. 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. The difference between the negative causal effect and actual experience of birth order is likely to be contributing to the confusion regarding birth order effects in the literature.

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Presented in Session 232: Families and Education