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Family Dynamics

A Psychologist's Take on "Eldest Daughter Syndrome"

Is this social media "diagnosis" real?

Key points

  • Eldest daughters often feel pressured to take on additional responsibilities due to their familial role.
  • "Eldest Daughter Syndrome" has been shown to have some impact on behavioral and personality development.
  • Other family members besides the eldest daughter can showcase traits associated with Eldest Daughter Syndrome.
Juliane Liebermann / Unsplash
Source: Juliane Liebermann / Unsplash

Social media has made both finding information and relatable people incredibly easy. It seems everyone has something to say and an audience waiting to hear it.

Recently, The Guardian1 published an article discussing the term “Eldest Daughter Syndrome” and how it’s gone viral on TikTok. The viral video2 showcases Katie Morton, a licensed marriage and family therapist, discussing the Eldest Daughter Syndrome, or EDS, as she calls it.

Essentially, EDS can be defined as the feeling of responsibility felt by the eldest daughter in a familial unit and how it shapes their behavior into adulthood. Although the condition cannot be officially diagnosed, it nevertheless feels very real to those who experience it.

While Morton acknowledges EDS is not an official diagnosis, it’s no less significant to the millions of eldest daughters who have watched, liked, and commented on the video — all finally feeling seen. However, what she doesn’t address is that EDS is a little more complex than simply self-identifying as or being the eldest daughter. Depending on the family, culture, and age gap between siblings, there can be multiple women in the family with EDS, and even men can have it.

As with anything we find on social media, it’s important to do your own research and seek advice from a licensed professional who works directly with you.

Eldest Daughter Syndrome Explained

Before I explain the deeper nuances of EDS, it’s important to understand that acquiring new data in psychology is difficult. Something will become a “trend,” especially on social media, before there is enough evidence to back it up scientifically.

Eldest Daughter Syndrome affects many, although the stress that occurs is minimized. As the eldest daughter, taking on responsibilities, problem-solving, and going above and beyond feel natural. Some say that, while nurturing has its place, eldest daughters are socialized and externally pressured to take on a leadership role, which they naturally assume.

In 2018, Sandra Black published an article in the National Bureau of Economic Research3 discussing how she and her colleagues sought to explain the economic advantage of older siblings, and found that it’s pretty consistent with personality type and economic status. They found that the eldest child in a multi-child home tended to have a higher-quality education and, if they had a career, a higher-paying one.

Still, this isn’t necessarily the norm. What was notable about this article was that Black admitted that birth order, age gap, gender, and environment impact one’s behavior and personality.

Does Birth Order Impact Behavior and Personality?

Speaking as the eldest daughter, myself, birth order and the number of siblings matter. My sister and I are 11 years apart, and since there are just the two of us, she has some of the eldest child traits, too, such as naturally assuming responsibilities and helping others figure things out.

In families with multiple daughters, the middle child is largely stereotyped as trying to find their way and fit in or overcompensating, though this stereotype has become less accurate — perhaps we have overlooked the middle child's sense of entitlement as the first youngest child in some cases. Nonetheless, the eldest or youngest may feel more pressure to solve problems as they arrive.

Numerous studies have explored the potential impact of birth order on personality traits, behavior, and life outcomes. One of the earliest and most influential theories on this topic was proposed by the Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler in the early 20th century. Adler's birth order theory4 suggested that firstborns were more likely to develop a strong sense of responsibility, middleborns a desire for attention, and lastborns a sense of adventure and rebellion. He also introduced the concept of the “family constellation,"5 emphasizing the dynamics and interactions between family members as a factor in shaping individual development.

While the findings are not definitive, some patterns have emerged from research on birth order6:

  • Firstborns: Firstborn children, particularly firstborn daughters, tend to exhibit traits such as leadership, achievement orientation, and a sense of responsibility. This may be because they initially receive undivided parental attention and are often given more responsibilities than older siblings.
  • Middle children: Middle children are often stereotyped as feeling “overlooked” or being the “peacemakers” in the family. However, research suggests that middle children can also develop strong social skills and a tendency to be more independent and open to negotiation.
  • Youngest children: Youngest children, particularly the youngest daughters, are sometimes perceived as more carefree, attention-seeking, and self-centered. Even so, they may develop strong social skills and a sense of humor to stand out in the family.

It's important to note that birth order is just one factor among many that can influence personality and behavior. Family dynamics, parenting styles, socioeconomic status, and individual characteristics also play significant roles.

Additionally, I have noticed how age gaps between siblings can impact the manifestation of birth order traits. Larger age gaps can lead to siblings exhibiting traits more commonly associated with different birth order positions.

While birth order patterns can be observed, they should be regarded as general tendencies rather than strict rules. Every individual is unique, and a complex interplay of various factors shapes their personality and behavior. Personality traits are nuanced, and they depend on you as a person.

Pros and Cons of the Eldest Daughter Syndrome Conversation

The growing dialogue around Eldest Daughter Syndrome has brought much-needed attention to the unique pressures and responsibilities often placed on firstborn daughters. On a positive note, this conversation has given a voice to many eldest daughters who previously felt their experiences were unacknowledged or minimized. Shedding light on this phenomenon has validated the challenges they face and fostered a greater understanding within families and society.

Nevertheless, it also has had some potential downsides. In some cases, it may have reinforced stereotypes or oversimplified the complex dynamics at play within families. Additionally, labeling EDS as a “syndrome” could contribute to a sense of burden or negative self-perception for eldest daughters. There is a risk that the dialogue, while well-intentioned, inadvertently perpetuates the very pressures it aims to address.

The EDS conversation should catalyze positive change, encouraging families to recognize and address any undue burdens placed on their firstborn daughters. By embracing a spirit of understanding and mutual support, we can ensure that all children, regardless of birth order, have the opportunity to thrive and reach their fullest potential.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


1. Reed, B. (2024). “‘Eldest daughter syndrome’: what is it and why is everyone talking about it right now?”… The Guardian

2. Morton, K. (2024). “The 8 signs you have eldest daughter syndrome…”

3. Black, S. (2018). “New Evidence on the Impacts of Birth Order.” National Bureau of Economic Research.

4. Laird T.G. & Shelton A.J. (2006). “From an Adlerian Perspective: Birth Order, Dependency, and Bing Drinking on a Historically Black University Campus.” The Journal of Individual Psychology; 62(1):18–35.

5. Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). “The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler” (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 37).

6. Coan A, et al. (2018). “Birth order theory and habit formation: A literature review.” ResearchGate.

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