"Oldest sisters and brothers likely often feel like it would have been nice to have someone older who blazed the trail and broke in the parents before they came along," says Katherine J. Conger, PhD, professor of human development and family studies at the University of California, Davis. "Someone older who they could go to for advice and encouragement and could look up to, the way that they hope their younger brothers and sisters view them." They want a Khloé to their Kendall, if you will.
Generally speaking, the oldest sibling in a family is expected to set a good example and be a role model for the younger siblings, Dr. Conger says. The age differences between you and your siblings can affect how this dynamic plays out throughout the years, and Dr. Conger says oldest siblings who are three to five years older than their siblings experience the most pressure. An older sibling who's only 12 to 18 months older, on the other hand, is often treated similarly to their younger sibling, so competition usually doesn't hit as hard, she says. "Eventually, this can cause some resentment if the oldest is treated like a younger child and not accorded some status or recognition for his or her own skills and competence," she says.
Firstborn siblings also tend to keep tabs to make sure their parents are treating everyone fairly compared to their siblings, Dr. Conger says. But often, they also kind of like the power of being in charge, and feel like it helps them contribute to the family, she says, adding, "The upside of sibling caregiving is that older siblings learn about perspective-taking — being in the other sibs' shoes — empathy, and caring." That also means that if there's a stressful family situation, like a death or divorce, then some oldest siblings feel like they have to make sure the family stays together, which is a massive responsibility that could make helping out feel like more of a negative experience, she says.
Most oldest siblings have special privileges that come along with the role, like being able to stay up late or do special things with their parents, and they probably wouldn't trade those for an older sibling. And no matter where you fall in the birth order, your family is your family, and at this point, you've probably figured out how exactly you fit into that system so that it works for you. Whether you're more of a Kylie or a Penelope, you might not always have a Kourtney or Mason to lean on — but that's where Kris, or your own parents, come in.