Second Children Are More Likely To Be Trouble

If your second child has a habit of driving you up the wall with their behaviour, then it seems that you are not alone in your exasperation with your second offspring.

A study in 2017 by economists in the USA and Denmark concluded that second-born children, especially boys, are more likely to get into trouble at school, skip school, or even be convicted of a crime, than first-born children.

Second-born boys

The study looked at families with two or more children in both Denmark and Florida, with a focus on second-born boys.

Despite large differences in environments across the two areas, we find remarkably consistent results: in families with two or more children, second-born boys are on the order of 20 to 40 percent more likely to be disciplined in school and enter the criminal justice system compared to first-born boys even when we compare siblings.


The outcome for a pair of brothers was much worse than a girl-boy first and second-born dynamic.

What’s causing the bad behaviour?

There are a few potential contributing factors that could be resulting in this unruly lot of second-born boys.

The first factor is role models. A first-born has their parents, ie adults, as their main role models. Unfortunately for the second-born, they also have an older sibling as a role model – often a crazy-ass toddler who thinks the world revolves around them!

The second factor is parental attention (you just knew it was going to come down to being the fault of the parents, right?). Usually a first-born will get all of their parents’ attention. Once you throw another child into the mix, of course, attention and time are split. Plus, with second and subsequent children, parents tend to tone down the overly anxious parenting and we all just sort of cruise along more. But, the study found that we still invest just as much into our children’s education, our second-born kids are just as healthy and are more likely to attend preschool.

So there it is – we’re giving our second-born kids less attention and worse role models! In fact, first-born kids are often getting a double dose of attention as they tend to benefit from the time available to parents during maternity leave for the second-born child too.

What can parents do about it?

Whilst the results and further studies may help to influence parental leave policy as a social benefit, there isn’t really a lot we can change in our parenting. You are only one person with 24 hours in a day. You can only do your best at giving each of your children an equal amount of attention but it is simply not always possible.

The findings are also just from one study and only indicate an increase in behavioural problems, so it’s not going to apply to every second-born boy. I have two boys myself, born approximately two years apart. And yet, the second-born boy is all about following the rules and often asks if we can send his older sibling back for a refund when he stuffs up, so I don’t think the terrible role modelling quite gelled in this instance!

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

her world julieWritten by Julie Scanlon

Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire. 

Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”


  1. Bevik1971 04/08/2019 at 6:11 pm

    This is a hard one for me as my children are 20 years apart! So I raised my first born son alone and then had my second at aged 41 with my partner and my son didn’t live at home so it’s a bit hard to comment on this. I can imagine though that the findings could be somewhat true. I am from a family of 4 girls but can’t really remember much difference to be honest

  2. Alezandra 03/08/2019 at 10:36 pm

    Oh the joy of having a second child. I am not in this situation yet but as a family we are praying and hoping for a second child, and I will take the trouble that comes along with it.

  3. candyjanenz 30/07/2019 at 4:11 pm

    I have two boys and the oldest definitely follows the rules more whereas the second child definitely likes to test or ignore the rules. I think we are also a bit more relaxed with the second child as you just dont have enough time to worry about everything.

  4. Shorrty4life1 30/07/2019 at 1:11 pm

    I found these studies very interesting. I’d like to think this was wrong haha but I believe in some ways my 2nd born BOY is going to be a handful especially as you say with skipping school etc because my son already hates school now and he’s only 5years old. I think it’s to do with his learning difficulties but yeah he’s a real mums boy and just wants to hang with me. He’s pretty well behaved but boy when that temper is working she’s all on

  5. Mands1980 30/07/2019 at 12:04 pm

    I find the second born more work but she is my only daughter with an older brother and a younger brother. She tries to always stretch the boundaries. I know other families with an older boy then second born boys and they can be right little rascals and very hard work. So I definately agree with this study.

  6. Micht 30/07/2019 at 11:54 am

    Now this is an interesting study but im not sure i agree with it…in my case, i was the second born and came 9years after my brother ..he was the superstar my whole life but between the two of us, he went more off the rails, testes boundaries and didnt quite respect my parents, i on the other hand towed the line, followed the rules and still do, a goody two shoes in fact. Now with my kids, my first did follow the formula of following the rules and being the centre of attention and my second, well someone needed to give me a manual, she beats to her own drum but is stronger in personality and stands her im not sure if she would be a troublemaker but if steered in the right direction i think she will be just fine.but time will tell..

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