How to Raise a Whole Smart Family
The See Jane Win research, based on interviews with 82 of the successful women relative to birth order and sibling relationships, indicated that the success of one girl was sometimes at the expense of another girl in the family. Clinical cases at Family Achievement Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, of both achieving and underachieving boys and girls also show that competition between siblings may lead one toward achievement and the other toward underachievement. The research findings can help to focus on both what goes right and wrong in sibling competition.
About The Study
original See Jane Win research was based on
questionnaires completed by 1,236 successful women in eight nontraditional and four
traditional careers for women. One hundred women were also interviewed for the report; it
was the analysis of the interviews that helped to focus on the effect of sibling
competition for shaping the achievement of the successful women and their siblings. Since
some women did not give sufficient information about relationships with siblings, and 9 of
the women were only children, 82 women were used for a more in-depth study of how size of
family, birth order, and gender of siblings affect achievement in the family.
More of the women interviewed came from 2-child
families (36) than any other size family. Twenty-eight came from families of 3 children,
11 families had 4 children, and 7 had 5 or more children. Thus, the average family size in
the study was 2.9 children. Perhaps it is obvious that it is more difficult for all
children to attain college degrees if the family is larger. A large family divides the
resources available for each child and allows for more individual variation in
intelligence, personality, and diligence. Figure 1 shows the percentage of families of
each size in which all children earned a college education. While 81 percent of the
2-child families had both children complete college, that percentage declined to 57
percent for families with 3 children, 25 percent for 4-child families, and 14 percent for
families with 5 or more children.
Gender Effects on Siblings
The genders of the other children in the family did affect "Jane," and her success also had a different effect on her sisters than on her brothers. In two-child, mixed-gender families, it was much more likely that both children would have accomplished a college education and a successful career (87 percent). In the 2-child, girl families, a somewhat lower percentage of the families had both girls earn a college degree (76 percent), but an even lower percentage, 43 percent, had both girls using their degrees for a career outside the home. A closer view of the 2-girl families shows that one sister tended to be more assertive and confident from child-hood, and, indeed, the more assertive of the sister pairs tended to choose a career, while the less assertive sister typically became the full-time homemaker.
In the 3-child families where all 3 children were girls, all had completed college in 5 of the 6 families. The sisters tended to be in careers with less status or were homemakers compared to the professional women in the research. Among the 18 families with 2 girls and a boy, more than half of the sisters of the successful women did not go to college. There were only 3 families in the study with 2 boys and a girl, and in 2 of the 3 families, all went to college.
There seemed to be an advantage when all the children in the family were girls. Because there were no boys to distract from the girls' accomplishments, girls were expected to do everything. The "good student" role was typical for all the girls, although personality differences seemed to encourage one girl to select a career that involved less risk taking and was more traditional for women. When a boy was added to the gender mix, the boy was often regarded as the "crown prince" with special privileges and responsibilities, which typically propelled him to success. However, the 2 girls competed with each other, causing one to see herself as the more career directed, the other to take the homemaker and less risky direction.
Birth Order Effects
Findings in this small study of the 82 interviews were somewhat different than the findings in the book. Similar to the larger study, more of the successful women were firstborns (51 percent). Next in order of success were the youngest (32 percent), and finally middle children represented 17 percent of the group (see Figure 2). The reduced percentage of middle children may be directly related to the large number of 2-child families in which, of course, there are no middle children.
In the 2-girl families, there were more firstborns than second born that were
more successful (12 firstborns versus 9 second born), and in the girl-boy families, there
was only one more firstborn than second born (8 versus 7).
What Parents Can Do To Create A Whole Smart Family
Avoid Labeling. Although it's obvious that all
children in the family are not genetically alike and that some children may have
differences in intel-lectual, artistic, musical, or physical abilities, it is also obvious
that family competition seems to encourage each child in the family to seek special
attention that is different from that of the other children. When parents emphasize their
children's differences, it seems to label them and limit their confidence in almost all
For example, Dr. Sandra Calvin did not consider herself as strong in music
as her sister but recalls that music provided the opportunity for challenge and
Raising a Whole Smart Family
It does seem that even with the best
intentioned and skillful parenting, it is extremely difficult to motivate all children to
achieve. Because siblings compare themselves, it may actually help for parents to
explicitly explain to their children that they don't have to be best in the family to be
good at a specific skill, and that there is a real benefit to learning skills at which
they only have average abilities. There is the best likelihood that their children will
consider themselves to be part of a whole smart family if parents have high academic
expectations for all their children and prioritize education as first; avoid labeling
their children as the "creative" one, the "athlete," or the
"beauty;" and consider each other to be intelligent.
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© 2008 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights