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First-born child earns highest degree, says Statistics Netherlands

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The Dutch bureau of Statistics (CBS) found out that the oldest child in the family earns a university degree more often than the other children. Why is that?

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It is a fact screaming out for an explanation. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) looked at which children in a family end up completing the highest level of education. At the age of 34, the first child has completed a programme in higher education in 43.6 percent of cases. The second child and third child come out at just under 40 percent – a noticeable difference.

In bigger families, it looks like it's even harder to graduate: the fourth, fifth and sixth children have a 33 percent, 26 percent and 23 percent chance of earning a higher education degree, respectively.

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© HOP. Source: Statistics Netherlands.

But the chances of earning a university degree also change for the ‘first born’ depending on how big the family is. The first-born child has the greatest chance of graduating from an institution of higher education if he/she comes from a family with three children: 46.5 percent. Children numbers two and three in turn achieve a higher level than an only child, and they also perform better than the oldest child of a big family. At least in statistical terms.

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© HOP. Source: CBS.

Children five and six from big families therefore make the least progress in terms of institutional education: at age 34, less than 25 percent of them have obtained a diploma of higher education.

Statistics Netherlands has offered a brief explanation for all this data: parents have to divide "sources of assistance" such as money, time and energy among their children, which is simply more difficult in big families. First-born children have the undivided attention of their parents much longer. It may well be that they also help their younger brothers and sisters with their homework and, by doing so, develop greater skills.

However, Statistics Netherlands emphasised “that the correlations are not causal and the differences are not that big”. 

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