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Birth order as a market segmentation variable.

Demographic factors have played an important role in academic and applied marketing for decades. A recent analysis of 1,972 articles published between 1980 and 1988 in six leading marketing journals found demographic components in approximately 17% (Pol, 1991). A number of marketing theories and models also have major demographic components (Goldstucker, 1986; Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia, 1981; Sheth, 1979; Wells and Gubar, 1966). Demographic factors like age, ethnicity, gender, income, mobility and social class have been identified as reasonable predictors of consumer behavior and related market phenomena (Andreasen, 1966; Bearden et al., 1966; Miller, 1955; Zeithaml, 1986). Marketers are well aware, for example, that differences in customer age and purchasing power may result in higher sales in one market and lower sales in another (Pol, 1991).

Marketers also rely on parameters in addition to demographics for market segmentation. Psychographics is a broad example; values, attitudes and involvement are more specific ones. While it is difficult to imagine much decline in the popularity of such tools, the time may be at hand for examination of conditions that are antecedent to traditional bases of market segmentation. As battles for market share intensify around the world, ways are needed to: identify meaningful new market segments; fit products to individual needs more closely; and generally build better relationships with the many facets of today's complex consumer. Accordingly, research into conditions antecedent to established segmentation variables may yield insight for academicians and competitive advantage for practitioners.

Target demographics

The purpose of this article is to present a rationale for research into birth order as it may affect consumption behavior and therefore serve as a new market segmentation variable. Birth order is defined as a person's rank by age among his or her brothers and sisters (Steelman, 1985). The basic question for marketers is whether birth order should be included as part of the routine determination of target demographics.

Some researchers may exhibit understandable reluctance to investigate relationships among birth order, consumption and market segmentation. This reluctance is often founded on a priori convictions that such links do not exist, perhaps because virtually no empirical investigation has yet attempted to establish them. The question becomes whether such a priori convictions and the paucity of empirical links constitute a circular logic whose time has come to be either refuted or confirmed.

Currently, most evidence for relationships between birth order and behavior is taken from psychology, sociology and the management sciences. With few exceptions (Claxton, 1993), however, marketing researchers have ignored the practical, lifelong effects that birth circumstances may have on many behaviors including consumption. Accordingly, an applied example will be presented of how the Waterman Pen division of the Gillette Company has used birth order as an advertising appeal and apparent segmentation variable. Birth order-related results from 156 subjects who were shown the Waterman Pen advertisement are also reported.

Antecedent demographic factor

This article attempts to demonstrate that birth order is important to the study of market segmentation because - like gender, race and nationality - it is an antecedent demographic factor that may affect many important socio-developmental processes that ultimately shape the individual's cognitive, affective and conative responses to consumption choices. The objectives are to present the Waterman Pen advertisement and accompanying empirical findings, to review briefly the history of birth order research and establish the current state of such research, to suggest hypotheses as starting-points for investigation of birth order as a market segmentation variable, and to discuss implications for the marketing manager.

The article is divided into five sections. The first section presents the previously-mentioned use of birth order as an advertising appeal by the Waterman Pen Company. A rather general division between lay and scientific perceptions of the effects of birth order is also acknowledged. The second section begins by reviewing birth order literature extending from the nineteenth century to the 1990s. The second section ends by reporting analysis of responses from 156 subjects who were shown the Waterman advertisement.

The third section discusses links between birth order and various forms of economic and consumption behavior, including entrepreneurship and the many studies which relate birth order to career paths. The third section also offers five propositions for initiating research into birth order as a new basis for select market segmentation tasks. The propositions cover strategic and executional aspects of market segmentation and selling message creation. The fourth section offers additional suggestions on how today's marketers might capture birth order information and apply it to market segments. Managerial implications constitute the final section.

Birth order as a contemporary marketing tool and a topic of popular interest

Contemporary marketers rarely use advertising concepts that involve birth order. An advertisement by Waterman Pen Company, Paris, uses a copy appeal that begins with the narrator's order of birth (see Figure 1):

I was born the second son.

I graduated second in my law school class.

And finished second in the Cannes-Marrakesh Rally (twice).

Recently, however, I acquired a Waterman.

How delightful to feel first, at last. (Waterman Pen Company, 1989.)

Suboptimal symbolism

The general implication is that second place is not a preferred position at any social level - familial, academic or competitive. For targeted readers, the specific implication is that the suboptimal symbolism which attends second place can be offset by the symbolism of a consumer good, in this case an expensive pen.

Scientific interest

Although marketers rarely use concepts involving birth order, their consequences have been recognized by generations of fathers, mothers and, to a lesser extent, scientists. The scientific community periodically reawakens to, then re-shelves, the study of birth order. Scientific interest appears to waver partly because of the inevitable emergence of the nature-versus-nurture debate:

On no other subject is the gulf between academics and ordinary people so wide.

Even the most hopeful of parents know . . . full well that, say, one of

their sons is brighter or more musical or more athletic than another .... They

know that, even if full equality of opportunity could be guaranteed, equality

of outcome could not. Ability is not evenly distributed (The Economist,


The following section considers birth order,-its research history and apparent effects on individual Development.

Birth order: a century of research

Since the late nineteenth century, the study of conditions attendant to ordinal positions of birth has been termed "birth order" research. `4s noted, birth order generally refers to an individual's relative rank in the age hierarchy of family siblings (Steelman, 1985), although many definitional variations exist.

In 1874, Sir Francis Galton, the father of regression analysis, published English Men of Science (Gallon, 1874) which offered early data on the relationship between birth order and achievement (see Altus, 1966; Neter et al., 1989). More than a century later, contemporary investigators observed that "the differential treatment of children based solely on the child's birth order rank is a centuries old phenomenon that extends across cultures" (Carlson and Kangun, 1988).

In 1920, Alfred Adler investigated the effects on personality of family size, sex of siblings, and birth order (Adler, 1920). Between 1963 and 1967, the Journal of Individual Psychology listed 119 entries under birth order (Miley, 1969). This increased to 272 entries between 1967 and 1971 (Vockell et al., 1973). Over time, many types of theories have attempted to explain birth order differences, e.g., intrauterine or physiological factors; only-child uniqueness; dethronement; anxious or relaxed parents; and economic factors (Adams, 1972). During the 1960s and 1970s, methodological refinements prompted attempts to relate birth order effects to attitude and opinion formation, creativity, career selection, psychiatric problems, sex-role identity, personality and socialization (Vockell et al., 1973).

Moratorium on birth order research

Like many demographic factors, birth order can be controversial. Several researchers have cited data refuting birth order effects. One study, for example, found no predominance of first bores in a higher achievement management group (Dubno et al., 1969). Other researchers have seriously questioned the many potentially confounding factors in birth order research, e.g. race/ethnicity, age of mothers, age and sex of subjects, marital disruption, etc. (Ernst and Angst, 1983; Schooler, 1972; Steelman, 1985). Curiously, because of debates that resulted from inconsistent findings, several authors in the 1970s and early 1980s called for a moratorium on birth order research (Ernst and Angst, 1983; Schooler, 1972). However, as the following sections discuss, other researchers have remained actively interested in birth order issues.

As a backdrop to information below, recently reported research suggests that brain development is much more vulnerable to environmental influence than previously realized. This is largely because a child's brain has been found to develop more rapidly and extensively during the first year than previously realized. The environment influences the number of brain cells a child retains, the connections between the cells, and how they are "wired". Accordingly, any effort to maximize intellectual growth must begin during a child's first three years - much earlier than previously thought. As an unfortunate result, by age 18 months children raised in deficient environments can display cognitive deficits that may be irreversible. Thus, the influence of early environment on a child's brain development is long-lasting (Carnegie Task Force, 1994).

Genetic and environmental factors


Obviously, a myriad genetic and environmental factors contribute to differences among siblings. Some research, for example, has specifically suggested that overt personality and behavior traits differ between first and later bores as a result of differential socialization (Carlson and Kangun, 1988). Socialization is the process that exposes a newcomer to the values, goals and standards of an organization or group, and informs the newcomer about his or her role within. In other words, socialization identifies context-specific appropriate behavior for a newcomer.

Peers frequently become key socializing agents for the newcomer as the result of three factors: peers' similarity and availability to the newcomer, their power to reward in various ways, and the likelihood they may be perceived as experts by the newcomer (George, 1990). Accordingly, first bores tend to be socialized by adults and later bores have progressively greater opportunity to be socialized by older siblings. In one study, for example, last bores reported receiving significantly less of two types of parental feedback than either first or middle bores (Claxton, 1994). Additionally, siblings tend to seek role niches within their sibship. As an example, if a first born excels academically, a later born brother or sister may prefer to make his or her mark as the family athlete, thereby staking claim to an unfilled niche.

Intrafamilial dynamics

Adult-socialized first borns are sometimes theorized to be more oriented toward achievement (Carlsun and Kangun, 1988). Conversely, peer-socialized later bores are frequently characterized as being more independent of authority, more popular, and more accepting of risk than first bores (Gardner, 1978; Moore and Cox, 1990; Sulloway, 1990). Extrapolated to an entire population, such intrafamilial dynamics may tend to motivate first bores to achieve via conventional means, while motivating later bores to embrace the less conventional. The realm of science provides several examples. First, over 90% of scientists who were early endorsers of the (then) new and unconventional concepts of Charles Darwin were later borns. (Gardner, 1978). Second, 23 of 28 scientific revolutions since the sixteenth century are reported to have been led by later bores (Sulloway, 1990). Thus, evidence exists that many aspects of socialization that may be related to birth order may also help account for differences in accomplishment, personality and behavior among siblings.

Marketers should anticipate, however, that assessment of consumption-related effects of birth order will provide challenges similar to those encountered when correlating traditional demographics with various consumption patterns. For example, some researchers believe other birth-related phenomena, such as family size and spacing between children, may also be responsible for many differences between individual siblings. The next section discusses the confluence model (Zajonc and Markus, 1975), which investigates birth order effects and their relation to family size and spacing between siblings.

Confluence model

Family size, sibling spacing and the confluence model

An extensive series of studies was conducted on the effects of malnutrition on the intellectual performance of children born in The Netherlands at the end of the Second World War. These studies were conducted on the entire male population of The Netherlands who turned 19 years of age between 1963 and 1966 - a total of 386,114 subjects (Stein et al., 1972). Although no ill effects from malnutrition were found, later analysis (Belmont and Marolla, 1973) produced an unanticipated result: a "strong relationship between birth order and intellectual performance" (Zajonc and Markus, 1975, p.74). Five major findings were described:

(1) as birth order increased, intellectual performance declined; (2) as family size increased, intellectual performance declined; (3) last bores showed the greatest decline in intellectual performance of any birth rank within each family size; (4) only children performed at approximately the same level as first bores from a four-child family; and (5) except for last borns, birth order and intelligence were related by a quadratic function (Belmont and Marolla, 1973).

Although potential explanations were not suggested, socioeconomic status was ruled out as a significant factor in these apparent effects of birth order (Belmont and Marolla, 1973). A subseqent study, however, introduced the "confluence model" to help explain the effects of birth order, family size, and sibling spacing on intellectual development (Zajonc and Markus, 1975).

Intellectual environment

Based on the concept of mutual intellectual influence among family members, the confluence model theorizes a child's intelligence to be largely a function of the intellectual milieu in which he or she matures. In other words, the intellectual environment is interpreted as arising primarily from the combined intellectual levels of parents and siblings, and may be determined simply by calculating the unweighted average of the intellectual levels of all members of a family.

For example, assume that each parent in a family possesses 100 arbitrary intellectual units. When a new-born first child arrives on the scene, he or she has nearly zero arbitrary intellectual units. This is because adult mental development is not present at birth. Such development only occurs over time. Accordingly, at the birth of the first child, the average absolute intellectual level for the family is approximately 67 arbitrary units (200 divided by 3). The family's intellectual environment continues to be negatively affected by the birth of each additional sibling (Zajonc and Markus, 1975).

The confluence model was reported to account for 97% of the variance in the study (Belmont and Marolla, 1973) linking birth order and intellectual performance (Zajonc and Markus, 1975). Regarding the first of the five findings listed earlier, confluence model research confirmed a decline in intellectual performance with birth order when close spacing existed between successive siblings. "Close spacing" is a relative term, e.g. siblings who are separated in age by one year are more closely spaced than those who are separated by two years.

Spacing practices

As for the second finding, the decline in intellectual performance with increased family size was confirmed. In most cases, sibship size was found to be negatively related to a child's intellectual growth. Intellectual climate deteriorated as a family became weighted with younger members who were less mentally developed. If born into families with closer spacing between siblings, children were less likely to be exposed to an intellectually enriched milieu than if they were born into families with wider spacing. In aggregate, spacing practices were captured indirectly by birth rate. Higher birth rates typically reflected shorter intervals separating siblings (Zajonc and Markus, 1975).

Regarding the third and fourth findings, the confluence model research also discovered departures by two birth positions from the linear declines in intellectual performance generally associated with sibship size and birth order. The departures were found in only children and last born children. To account for this, the researchers proposed a "tutoring" explanation: only and last born children share a mutual handicap - neither has a younger sibling to teach (Zajonc and Markus, 1975). Simply stated, genuine understanding of things may not occur until such things can be explained to someone else. Presumably, by lacking opportunities to serve as an intellectual resource (i.e. teacher) to brothers or sisters, only and last born children are also denied an avenue by which their own intellectual development might otherwise be enhanced. Thus the tutoring explanation serves as another instance wherein birth order is suggested as a factor in the differential development of individuals.

Subsequent research (Zajonc, 1976) used data from three additional studies to confirm the validity of the confluence model. Investigated were: (1) a study of the averages scores of almost 800,000 National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test (NMSQT) candidates (Breland, 1974); (2) a Scottish study of Stanford-Binet scores of 70,000 11 year-olds (The Trend of Scottish Intelligence, 1949); (3) a French study on IQ scores of 100,000 6-14-year olds (Institut National d'Etudes Demographiques, 1973).

It was concluded that all four sets of data confirmed the general decline in intellectual level with family size (Zajonc, 1975), thus affirming birth order as a factor in intellectual development.

Confluence and model - criticisms

The confluence model is not without its questioners. One study presented evidence that the model does not withstand close scrutiny, and further suggested that it may attempt "to explain a social phenomenon that does not exist" (Retherford and Sewell, 1991, p.156). Confluence model researchers replied that this criticism was based on inaccurate operationalizations of model parameters and that the critics' data further supported the model. Also cited was the critics' inability to offer an alternative theory beyond "'confounding background variables"'to account for numerous instances in which the confluence model is consistent with measured effects of birth order (Zajonc et al., 1991). Indeed, individual differences in consumer behavior, including those that may be birth order-related, too often may be written off as random noise rather than being investigated as systematic variance (Gould, 1991).

In conclusion, confluence model research supports the existence of birth order effects and goes even further by explicating two additional, potentially underlying mechanisms: family size and sibling spacing (Zajonc, 1976; Zajonc and Markus, 1975). From the marketer's perspective, however, the birth order demographic offers the easiest way to tap into the market segmentation potential of several birth-related phenomena. Methods of collecting birth order will be discussed shortly.

The sample

Birth order effects in a marketing application

Analyzing responses to the Waterman advertisement. It can be argued that the Waterman Pen ad introduced earlier is simply a metaphor for coming in second in life. To address this issue a sample of 156 marketing students at a southeastern university was shown the advertisement in January 1995. Students provided an appropriate sample because the emphasis was on theory testing rather than application (Calder et al., 1981).

The sample was composed of 71 women and 85 men, of whom 140 were undergraduates and 16 were graduate students. Ages ranged from 19 to 52 years (mean: 22.8 years). By nationality, 146 Americans, five French, two Brazilians, one Dutch, one German and one Venezuelan participated.

Birth order representation included 13 only children,48 first borns,67 middle borns, and 28 last borns. The middle born category included respondents who were neither first nor last born among three or more siblings, and also respondents who were second born in two-child sibships.

A questionnaire

A questionnaire was administered which contained demographic questions and ten questions about perceptions of the Waterman advertisement. The advertisement questions were answered on a seven-point scale (7 = strongly agree; 1 = strongly disagree). Analysis revealed that three of the questions were highly correlated with members of the remaining seven. Of the remaining seven questions, responses to three were significantly related to birth order.

To the question, "The story in the ad is relevant to the product being advertised", only children produced a significantly lower mean agreement score than those of either first or middle borns, but only directionally lower than that of last bores (F(3,152) = 2.1895,p = 0.0916). Next, to the question, "The story in the ad is believable", only children produced a significantly lower mean agreement score that those of either middle or last borns, but only directionally lower than that of first bores (F(3,152) = 2.6677, p = 0.0498). Perhaps most relevant to the discussion of market segmentation, to the question, "I can identify with the story in the advertisement", middle bores produced a significantly higher mean agreement score than those of only children or first borns, but only directionally higher than that of last bores (F(3,152) = 6.476R, p = 0.0004).

Middle borns

Generally, the advertisement appeared to communicate more effectively wi middle borns. This might be expected given the advertisement's theme of feeling "first, at last". The advertisement seemed to communicate least effectively with only children. A rough overall explanation may be that on] children are, by definition, the exclusive object of parental concern. Similarly, first bores are only children until a sibling arrives. First bores m; thus experience years of being the only child, thus making moot questions being "first, at last". A similar circumstance may apply to last bores who, importantly, are the eternal "babies" in their families. As their parents' final children, last bores may enjoy levels of parental attention that preclude the need to feel "first, at last". Middle borns, however, never enjoy such exclusivity. Selling themes of being "first, at last" may indeed resonate wit them.

While these findings pertain only to the respondent sample, they nonetheless exemplify the potential of birth order as a market segmentation parameter. This is especially true if the Waterman advertisement were indeed a mere metaphor for finishing second. Momentarily assuming that such is the case the statistical significance of the birth order-related responses reflects the useful potential that awaits the marketer who - rather than using birth circumstances as a casual metaphor- instead systematically researches, develops and incorporates birth order as a market cementation parameter.


For benchmarking purposes, the next section reports incidences of the various birth positions. The discussion then moves to evidence of career selection behavior apparently related to birth order. Also discussed is the implication that such differences in occupational choice may portend distinctive consumption behaviors that are at least partially segmentable by birth order. Five propositions are presented for testing.

Birth order, career selection, and market segmentation: five hypotheses

Incidence of birth positions

The frequency of the various birth positions is key to determining whether a given position is over- or under-represented in categories of interest. For benchmarking purposes, Table I compares the various birth positions as a percentage of total live births for five years between 1970 and 1989 (US [Bureau of Census, 1992).

Birth Order     1970   1980   1985    1988    1989

1st             38.9   43.0   41.7    41.1    41.1
2nd             27.5   31.9   33.2    32.7    32.4
3rd             15.5   15.1   15.7    16.2    16.3
4th             8.2    5.7    5.7     6.1     6.2
5th             4.3    2.2    2.1     2.2     2.3
6th and 7th     3.6    1.5    1.2     1.3     2.3
8th             2.0    0.6    0.4     0.4     0.4
Totals         100    100   100     100      100
Table 1. Birth orders of total lives birth (all races): selected
years from 1970-1989

Overall for the last 25 years, first borns/only children have constituted about 41% of live births; second bores about 31%, and third bores between 15 and 16% (US Bureau of Census, 1992). In contrast, higher fertility rates (births per 1,(300 women) in decades before 1970 resulted in first bores constituting a smaller percentage of live births. In 1960, for example, first bores comprised only slightly over 26% of live births. In 1950, first bores represented just over 31% of live births (Carlson and Kangun, 1988). These factors lend additional perspective to the following discussion.

Birth order, first bores and career selection

Accomplishment and responsibility acceptance. A number of authors have drawn behavioral contrasts among the various birth positions. In the USA, over half the nation's presidents have been first born. In 1989,55% of the US Supreme Court were first borns. Of the first 23 US astronauts, 21 were first-born, as also were 66% of students in Ivy League colleges in 1980. This birth position is over-represented among academicians, physicians, leading scientists and Rhodes Scholars (Kurtz et al., 1989).

First borns are achievement-oriented

Based on a study of prominent figures in the history of psychology, first bores and only children were found to be overrepresented - a not unexpected finding given first borns' greater tendency to obtain higher education and subsequent admittance to eminent occupations (Terry, 1989). Two of five top executives is first born, while one in six is an only child (Feinstein, 1990). For such reasons, first bores have been characterized as being more achievement-oriented than later bores (Carlson and Kangun, 1988).

First bores have a greater tendency to be conformist and oriented toward authority and responsibility (Moore and Cox, 1990). A quote in the popular press from University of Michigan psychologist Robert Zajonc concurs: "`The older child gets responsiblity - he's the company man ... the younger one tests the limits, tries to see what he can get away with ..." (Woodward and Denworth, 1990). Tending to be controlling, first bores also keep feelings pent up. Pressure to succeed may create in first bores a greater incidence of asthma, hives, migraine headaches, ulcers and other stress-related ailments (Moore and Cox, 1990). Such distinctions lead to the first hypothesis on market segmentation and selling message creation based on birth order:

H1: First bores will show significantly greater response than other birth positions to selling messages and images that depict leadership, achievement and responsibility within the established social order.

First borns and conformity

By definition, first bores are the leaders and pathfinders in their sibships. From childhood, in the relative absence of peer-level assurances in an untested world, first bores often learn to work within the established system, making conformity a key for survival and thematic for success. Thus, selling themes resonating with such images may prove particularly effective with first borns.

Need for achievement and entrepreneurship. As noted, several researchers have suggested a link between birth order and achievement (Carlson and Kangun, 1988; Cicirelli, 1978). Vocational preferences, for example, have been found to differ between first and later bores (Bryant, 1987; Holland, 1973; Lynch and Lynch, 1980). Indeed, at least one study has identified a tendency for US female executives to be first born or only children (Henning and Jardim, 1977).

An entrepreneur is an individual who founds his or her own enterprise (Begley and Boyd, 1987) and entrepreneurship is the process which creates the existence of new organizations (Gartner et al., 1988). Entrepreneurship has been viewed as a manifestation of need for achievement (termed "n Ach"), which is conceptualized as a relatively stable personality characteristic rooted in experiences of middle childhood (McClelland, 1961). Motivation to achieve, in turn, has been defined as cue-mediated affective behavior in situations involving standards of excellence: "Such standards are typically learned from parents who urge the child to compete against these standards, rewarding him when he performs well and punishing him when he fails" (Rosen, 1961, p. 574).

First borns and females

A noteworthy body of research has profiled the typical entrepreneur as being first born. One study found 50% of 468 female entrepreneurs surveyed nationally to be first born (Hisrich and Brush, 1983). A second study of 93 female entrepreneurs in Texas noted that 45% were first born, while 52% were middle or last born children (Sexton and Kent, 1981). Among 5-2 female entrepreneurs studied in Florida, 77% were first born (Neider, 1987).

The evidence continues. A sample of 45 British female entrepreneurs revealed that 60% were first born (Watkins and Watkins, 1983). In concluding that female entrepreneurs are "relatively likely to have been first born or only children", other investigators found need for achievement to be among the most frequently studied personality traits of female entrepreneurs (Bowen and Hisrich, 1986, p. 404).

Relatedly, need for achievement itself has been linked to consumption behavior in at least two ways. First, males with high need for achievement typically show more initiative in researching their environment, as evidenced by greater incidences of travel and other forms of exploratory consumption behavior (McCelland and Winter, 1969). Second, need for achievement has been linked to consumption behavior through its interaction with self-image. Depending on whether male test subjects had high or low need for achievement, they differed significantly on rating products in terms of self-image. Similarly, among female subjects divided into self-image quartiles, the high need for achievement group differed significantly from the low need for achievement group on product ratings. Overall, subjects of both sexes who were high in need for achievement rated products significantly differently in terms of self-image than did counterparts who were low in need for achievement (Landon, 1972).

Entrepreneurially oriented products

The general suggestion is that differing levels of need for achievement among birth positions may be one reason why birth order may influence some consumption behaviors. The next hypothesis indicates that overrepresentation of first bores among entrepreneurs may make certain aspects of first borns' consumption behavior differentially targetable:

H2: First bores will show proportionately greater interest in, and purchase of, entrepreneurially oriented products than will later borns.

"Entrepreneurially oriented products" include (but are not limited to): franchises, new business loans, venture capital sources, business start-up seminars, etc.

Other birth positions as segmentation parameters: middle borns, onlies and last borns

Middle borns. Contrasted with first horns, middle bores have been described as having relatively greater orientation toward peers, group cooperation, and other social activities (Cohen, 1985). The middle birth positions are often considered the most difficult, largely because middle bores may receive less individual attention from parents. Middle children may compensate by developing influential non-parental relationships. Because they must navigate through a world of siblings who are both older and younger, middle bores often have excellent people skills and are good listeners, mediators, and negotiators. Interestingly, middle bores may not be especially good decision makers (Moore and Cox, 1990). This may be partially because family decisions tend to be based on the needs of older or younger members, thus distancing middle bores from outcomes of, and involvement in, decision making.

Among notable women studied, second bores were significantly more likely to become scientists than writers, performing artists, or social reformers. Scientists as a whole, however, were not more likely to be second born. (Bohmer and Sitton, 1993). It is important to note that the pursuit of science is a quintessential team effort. Even the most solitary, bench-top practitioner builds on the work of forerunners and colleagues, and relies on the support and evaluation of peers. This profile suggests a rationale for segmenting markets and crafting selling messages targeted at middle borns:

H3: Middle bores will be particulary receptive to selling images depicting the role of creating harmonious relations with others, pleasant social environments, and/or success resulting from interpersonal adaptability or superior teamwork. As noted, middle bores have double roles in their sibships: they follow orders of older children, yet lead younger brothers and sisters. Middle bores may therefore respond to messages of smooth cooperation within relatively complex systems requiring the participation of many people. This is in contrast with mastery of the objective, institutional systems suggested for first borns, and to the one-to-one alliances suggested for only children, as discussed next.

Only children. Only children are sometimes classified as a special type of first born, tending to be highly motivated, self-confident, and achievement-oriented, but somewhat noncompetitive. Only children are believed to be more accustomed to dealing with adults than are other birth positions. As a result, when building careers, onlies often place themselves under the direction of authoritative and powerful older persons (Moore and Cox, 1990). This provides a rationale for the fourth proposition:

H4: Only children will exhibit significantly greater response to selling themes portraying success which stems from a nurturing, mentor-prodigy relationship with an older authority figure.

Only children

Having no brothers or sisters, virtually all of onlies' psychosocial nurturance in early life comes from comparatively powerful adults. As opposed to the system that first bores may strive to master, only children may look to one-on-one alliances with key power figures for survival and success. Sales messages that communicate such successful alliances may be differentially effective with only children.

Last borns. A family's last born child is often favored by parents. If overly protected, youngest children can grow up lacking independence. Last bores may tend to display irregular enthusiasm for work - sometimes achieving excellence, yet being unproductive at other times. They may exhibit a propensity to succeed by using wits rather than overt industriousness and intellectual capacity. Last bores have also been characterized as being especially vivacious, fun and extravagant - frequently excelling in less-structured artistic or professional endeavors (Moore and Cox, 1990). Indeed, among notable women studied, last bores were significantly more likely to be performing artists (Bohmer and Sitton, 1993). These observations give rise to a market segmentation and creative strategy for last borns:

H5: Last bores may especially respond to selling scenarios which .suggest that the product user will become the center of attention in family, work, or other settings portrayed as having relatively high amounts of festive activity.

Last borns

By definition, last bores are the babies of their families. Universally, babies are recipients of unconditional love. Babies symbolize beings that require, as a top priority, exclusive attention and care. The baby's world is filled with discovery, excitement and fun. For last bores as a market segment, such a social orientation may recommend selling communications which directly appeal to the ebullient, fun-loving aspects of the last born's personality.

Tying it all together: examples of how marketers can obtain birth order information for market segmentation

As mentioned, the perspective of the present discussion is that, while an untold number of genetic and environmental factors help shape consumption behavior, birth order probably offers the easiest and most practical way for marketers to obtain and use birth-related information. As one example, marketers might elicit birth order information on, say, ownership registration cards by requesting the following: "Please check one. In my parents' household I was: (a) the only child in my family; (b) the oldest child in my family; (c) a middle child in my family; or (d) the youngest child in my family".

Sales prospects by birth order

Having accumulated such data on a customer base or target market, the marketer's management information system might be programmed to provide a breakdown of sales prospects by birth order. Direct marketers, for instance, might produce several versions of a merchandise catalog that differed only in headline and body copy approaches tailored to recipients' birth positions, as exemplified by the five research propositions just suggested. Such catalog changes would be relatively simple to make since they involve only the black printing plate. Sales generated by such birth order-specific catalogs could be measured against a control to quantify the sales value of birth order information. Comparable applications might also be made by service providers and sales force members, who might alter service/selling tactics-based customers' birth order.

Implicit in these scenarios, however, is the marketer's ability to target single consumers. Admittedly, efforts targeted at families or spousal pairs would probably be less influenced by the birth position of any individual - unless the individual was the key decision maker.

Managerial implications

The study of birth order has a long and established history. This article has discussed how birth order may influence social and consumer behavior and thereby be used as a heretofore untapped market segmentation variable. The article has also reported empirical findings that birth order groups responded differently to an advertisement which had a birth order selling theme. Five propositions were offered for continuing research into birth order as a market segmentation variable.

Birth order - a "better" segmentation variable?

Marketers naturally have questions when presented with new segmentation variables. Accordingly, one question might be whether birth order is inherently "better" than other segmentation variables. To be sure, consumer behavior is extremely complex. While marketers may wish for individual predictors of behavior that are each enormously powerful, it is unrealistic to believe that single indicators can capture complex constructs reliably and validly (Dillon and Goldstein, 1975). Although it is doubtful that a single factor can ever be justified as the determinant of consumer behavior, knowledge about potential influences on behaviors will always be useful (Homer and Kahle, 1988). Thus, this article argues that, while probably not "better" as a sole variable, birth order nonetheless may be extremely important in certain market segmentation tasks. Birth order is important because, like nationality, race and gender, it is antecedent to many traditional bases of market segmentation. As an antecedent factor, birth order may affect many important socio-developmental processes that ultimately shape the individual's cognitive, affective and conative responses to consumption choices.

A more pragmatic question is, how can birth order be used by marketers to develop more effective tactics and strategies? Tactically, results from the Waterman advertisement test indicate how different birth order groups may vary in their perception of certain marketing communications. Strategically, a current trend is toward smaller families with just one or two children. The trend will probably have positive effects on, among other things, educational achievement (Blake, 1989; Otten, 1989) a basic indicator of an individual's economic and consumption potential. With smaller families come increases in only children and first bores as percentages of all births. And first borns, for example, have been found by several investigators to be less likely to engage in dangerous sports (e.g. professional, intercollegiate, and high school "contact" athletics), and to be more frightened by the potential for physical injury than later bores (Nisbett, 1968; Sohi and Yusuff, 1991). Numerous implications thus exist for birth order considerations in sports and safety equipment marketing.

Customer information instruments

As indicated in the preceding section, the addition of birth order questions to existing customer information instruments (e.g. owner registration cards) should require little additional expense. Some time after innovative marketers begin capturing birth order data, this new segmentation variable should become available from list brokers as a list enhancement criterion. However, by the time birth order data are available from broker, marketers who were earliest to collect them are likely to have become formidable experts at refining market segmentation by using them.

This is not to say, however, that development and use of birth order as a segmentation variable will be simple. Demographic factors are never simple to use. For example, what does it mean to be "female"?, or, how is a consumer classified who is one-quarter Cherokee Indian? More to the point, divorce and re-marriage being common in contemporary society, today's "blended" families pose challenges for the marketer who wants to collect birth order information. As one example, how would consumers who are first born to one parent and middle horn to another parent be classified? Also, realizing that middle bores may be second, third, or fourth born or more, another question is whether earlier middle bores behave differently than later middle borns. Such questions await further research.

It will be recalled that early environmental influences on brain development are long-lasting (Carnegie Task Force, 1994). Ultimately, the birth order segmentation variable offers a more basic and sophisticated way to understand the consumer, a way that takes into account the consumer's critical early years and formative environment. The intense global battle for customers is necessitating a rapid shift away from gross market segmentation parameters. Increasingly, the successful competitor must target the multiple identities, roles and personalities of the individual consumer. The growing complexity of individual wants, needs, moods end behaviors strongly suggests that new market segmentation variables such as birth order must now be tested. The behavior-shaping forces that accompany one's birth position within one's family are unique to the individual. As an important antecedent to many traditional segmentation criteria, the rationale for increased research into birth order is compelling.

Birth order evidence is not unequivocal, however. As with many demographic and psychographic variables, the potential for controversy that attends birth order should invite both excitement and caution from cutting-edge marketers. Consequently, marketing practitioners and academicians alike are urged to investigate the concepts contained within this article and to consider not only how birth order may add precision to some market segmentation tasks, but also how it may influence consumer behavior directly.

The Waterman Pen advertisement, and the empirically demonstrated birth order-related responses to it, illustrate the practical implications of investigating links between birth order and market segmentation. Applications like Waterman notwithstanding, neglect of birth order as a targetable demographic factor may be remiss at best, and unprofitable at worst. Just as medical researchers investigate unconventional remedies to create modern drugs, future-oriented marketers should now consider the investigations of earlier scientists regarding birth order as a factor which helps shape differences among individuals. The overall recommendation is that data on birth order should be routinely gathered as part of the demographic component of consumer research.



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The author wishes to thank Les Carlson, Roger P. McIntyre, and Jeff B. Murray for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.
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Author:Claston, Reid P.
Publication:Journal of Consumer Marketing
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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