Psychological separation from parents in firstborn and laterborn late adolescents

Isabelle Weinberg, Pace University


This study explored the relationship between birth order and psychological separation from parents in late-adolescent undergraduate college students. Studies of young children had generated findings that firstborn children behaved more dependently than laterborns. Recent reports from university counseling centers suggested that many of the common presenting problems were manifestations of separation difficulties. This study sought to determine whether the firstborn child's greater separation difficulties persisted into adolescence. It was hypothesized that, compared to laterborns: (1) firstborns would be more independent in managing their practical affairs (functional independence); (2) firstborns would be less independent, in their need for approval and support (emotional independence); (3) firstborns would be less independent, in experiencing excessive guilt, anger, anxiety (conflictual independence); (4) firstborns would be less independent in failure to develop their own values and beliefs, separate from their parents (attitudinal independence); and (5) firstborns would have higher grade point averages. Sixty students participated. They completed a demographic sheet, a self-report Psychological Separation Inventory (PSI), and wrote a 5-minute spontaneous description of each of their parents (OR). A discriminant analysis of the data revealed that the birth order function had little discriminating power. T-tests, as well, revealed no significant differences between firstborn and laterborn subjects. None of the 5 hypotheses were supported by the data. An additional analysis was performed, based on family mobility. No significant results were obtained here. Another analysis related to divorce, death, or illness within the family found a significant result: higher emotional independence scores in relation to mother were achieved by those subjects who had experienced divorce, death or illness within the family. Future investigation of differences between firstborn and laterborn psychological separation from parents would require more intensive intrapsychic inquiry in order to counteract inflated independence scores due to defensive maneuvers, as well as a subject pool that has a greater intellectual capacity for abstract reflection and introspection on interpersonal relationships.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Weinberg, Isabelle, "Psychological separation from parents in firstborn and laterborn late adolescents" (1991). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9129733.



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