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Brought Up to Rebel in the Sixties: Birth Order Irrelevant, Parental Worldview Decisive

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In Born to Rebel 1997 [1996] and subsequent works Frank Sulloway asserts that laterborns are more supportive of radical rebellions than are firstborns. Failure to replicate his historical cases and lack of significant sibling differences in contemporary studies of personality have produced fierce debate and grave doubts about the theory. It has yet to find robust support from studies of contemporary rebellions. Using retrospective survey data on the 1960s radicalization from 1,246 former students at the University of Oslo, we find no effect of birth order on who became student radicals. What we find are strong effects on political orientation of conventional radicalizing factors: upbringing in an urban environment and in particular in a home with radical parents. Within the group of radicals, birth order did not increase the propensity for political protest activity such as demonstrations and civil disobedience. Laterborns moreover had no higher proclivity than firstborns to apolitical protest behavior such as using cannabis or letting males' hair grow. Coming on top of concerns about the empirical support for other parts of the theory, our findings indicate that Sulloway's contested claim about the extrafamilial effects of birth order is not viable.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Oslo

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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