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See Jane Win®

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How to Raise a Whole Smart Family

boy and girl (1962 bytes) 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

Judge Edna Conway

Judge Edna Conway's success seemed to grow in contrast to her older sister's lack of success. No challenge was too hard for Edna. She would quietly assess each obstacle, admit that perhaps it might be difficult, and then decide it wouldn't be impossible. Her conclusion typically was, "I think I can do that-I just have to keep going." Edna's sister in stark contrast, was negative about almost everything, was pessimistic, complained about any chore, and completed very little of what she began. Edna explained, "I felt more like an oldest or only child and always felt ready to step out on my own." Edna not only graduated college and law school, but was also elected to a judgeship. Her sister dropped out of college and struggled with finding any positive direction.

The 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.

The definition of success was refined for this sibling study beyond the definition in the original See Jane Win research. The women in the original study who had prepared for a career and were homemakers were considered as successful as those who were working full time in a career managing their children through child-care providers, and sharing tasks with their husbands. Because this study is intended to identify sibling competition effects, a continuum of success was created, and a four-point rating scale was used for comparing sibling achievement. The scale differentiated between education for a career and actual practice of that career. Thus, a woman who had prepared for a career, but was not working in that career, was given a 3 while a woman who was working in her career was given a 4. The individual reader can feel free to attach his or her own value system to the interpretation of the results.



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Size of Family

graduate (1646 bytes)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.

Figure 1 (4244 bytes)

Gender Effects on Siblings

two girls (1935 bytes)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.

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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

girls & baby (2282 bytes)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.

kids on gym set (1933 bytes)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).


In the 3-child families, about half (12) were firstborns, and there were an equal number (7 each) of second and third children. In 4-child families, the successful women in 7 of the 12 families were firstborn, none were second born, 3 were third born, and 2 were youngest. In the families with 5 or more children, there were 3 firstborns, 1 second, 1 third, 1 fifth, and 1 tenth or last. Oldest children were most dramatically favored in larger families.

Figure 2 (3053 bytes)

What Parents Can Do To Create A Whole Smart Family

Psychologist Dr. Anne Caroles

Dr. Anne Caroles was referred to as the "brain" in her family. Her sister was called the "beauty." As a teenager, Anne viewed herself as "ugly" and believed she would never be attractive to anyone. Her studies became a hiding place for her. Now she looks back at her pictures and realizes she was quite normal looking.

Engineer Dr. Sandra Calvin

Dr. Sandra Calvin's family provides an excellent prototype of how parents can raise a whole smart family. Although there were 5 children in the family, all went to college and all have careers. Sxandra's parents considered all the kids to be smart, including her brother, who had a learning disability. Being smart and hardworking were both assumed and emphasized. The children varied in their musical and athletic skills and activities, but all participated in both. The whole family was included whether they were going to a concert or a basketball game. Music, science, camping, and sports were part of growing up in their enriched family environment. It was just assumed that all would continue their education beyond high school, and indeed they all did.

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 other areas.

Prioritize Education as First. It's important for parents to consider all their children intelligent even if one seems a bit more intelligent than the others. When parents of the successful women expected all their children to be smart and value challenge, the children were actually less competitive with each other.

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 self-discipline.

Consider Both Parents' Intelligence. When the parents of the successful women considered each other to be intelligent, their children had high regard for both. Even when their mothers were full-time homemakers, they were valued by the entire family as intelligent. Regardless of which parent the women identified with, they automatically considered themselves smart.

Raising a Whole Smart Family

boy and girl student 4906 bytes)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.

©2000 by Sylvia Rimm. All rights reserved.  This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author. 

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