When it was time for Apartment Therapy’s managing editor Sarah Yang to apply for college back in 2006, she had a few considerations about where to enroll: “I wanted to move away from home and live in a big city,” she says.
Yang, the oldest of two children, grew up in California, just outside of Los Angeles. Though sticking around to try out L.A. would have been nice, she also knew that if she wanted to be a magazine journalist, she needed to go to New York City, where many publications are based.
So she enrolled at New York University—and ended up staying in Manhattan for almost 12 years. But somewhere along the way, she decided she was ready for a change. After a couple of years toying with the idea, she’s finally packing her bags and moving to L.A. at the end of the month.
Why the cross-country move? “I have loved living in New York and am so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had here, but I definitely got an itch to try something new and also move closer to my family,” she says. She’s also looking forward to a new kind of independence: “I’ll finally be able to afford to live alone.”
Though it may seem that Yang’s experience is somewhat standard (millennials are writing their “Why I’m Leaving New York” letters in droves these days), there’s one small fact that might (subconsciously) have a bearing on why she moved to New York in the first place, why her sister chose to stay and attend college in California, and why Yang now wants to move back: her birth order.
“Birth order plays a certain role in our upbringing, and thereby also affects the way we tend to think of ourselves and the behaviors we choose,” says Ana Jovanovic from ParentingPod, an online resource for parents on mental health and wellbeing.
Jovanovic says that if we have the freedom to choose where we want to live, we choose the place that allows us to express ourselves and meet our needs. Our ideas of ourselves as well as our needs are all factors that can be influenced by birth order. So how much of where we choose to live is dependent on our relationship to our siblings? Let’s take a look (with a help from a couple of experts):
Dr. Kevin Leman, the author of “The Birth Order Book,” says firstborns are more likely to look for neatness and orderliness where they live. In his book, Leman describes oldests as leaders and perfectionists who desire approval from those in charge. “They are flaw pickers,” he says. “They’re going to notice paint chips on the walls or dirty rugs.”
One of the biggest reviews of birth-order studies shows that firstborns usually have a higher level of anxiety as well, resulting from being under the watchful eye of anxious first-time parents. For this, they’re also likely to prefer places that offer both independence and solitude. “They would prefer to live someplace on a hill by themselves,” Leman says.
Jovanovic says that oldest kids also tend to consider themselves responsible for taking the initiative and taking care of others. “Their living preferences may be connected to what they feel provides the best opportunities for the entire family,” she says. “They may choose to stay closer to home, so that they can help the family whenever that’s needed.”
Nicole Lund, Apartment Therapy’s assistant commerce editor is the oldest of four and has a sibling with special needs. While she wanted to move away from her family’s home in Pittsburgh to gain independence, she wanted to still be somewhat close to her family so she could easily go back home if needed. She settled on New York City, where she lives in an apartment she picked for the cleanliness. However, like Yang, she doesn’t think she’ll live there forever. “I feel pretty confident that I’ll move back home eventually,” she says.
While the oldest wants things neat and orderly in their home, the middle child isn’t as particular. “They roll with the punches because they never had mom and dad to themselves,” says Leman. “They endured hand-me-downs so while the firstborn are attracted to neatness and landscaping, which has to be perfect, [these don’t] have to be [perfect] for the middle child.”
In other words, middle children are more likely to be practical in deciding where to live, but will be able to live just about anywhere.
Middle children might also be more flexible about who they live with, since they’re used to being surrounded by others. “They may be more willing to share a condo with friends or choose a neighborhood that provides great opportunities to socialize,” Jovanovic says.
Another surprising place you might see more middle children? Warmer cities. Jovanovic says that middle children may be drawn to densely populated cities that provide ample opportunity to socialize. “Meeting new people gets easier when the weather is warm,” she says.
All of this jibes for Liz Steelman, Apartment Therapy’s real estate editor and the middle of three children with plans to retire in California. “I don’t think I could ever live alone: A., because I’d get very lonely and B., because my house would get really messy,” she says. “I’ve always had someone around to tell me when I need to clean the kitchen or when I need to do routine maintenance tasks, and I think I’d feel overwhelmed if I had to do it all by myself.”
On the other hand, the youngest child who is used to being around family members may prefer more of a community environment when picking a home. He has described the youngest as “social and outgoing.”
“The baby of the family who feeds off other people would prefer condos that are stacked on each other, apartments, or a place with a community pool where they can meet others,” says Leman.
However, that condo might not always be so close to home—Jovanovic recently told Apartment Therapy that the youngest might feel the need to differentiate themselves. So maybe you’re likely to find them in a communal-living building somewhere a little out of the way.
“I feel like I was compared a LOT to my sister growing up and always wanted to do something out of the family norm to differentiate myself,” says Nicoletta Richardson, Apartment Therapy’s senior associate editor of news and culture. “While my older sister ended up moving back to my home state (Connecticut) and buying a home 15 minutes away from my parents, I did the complete opposite and ended up renting a one-bedroom in a fifth-floor walk-up in Manhattan, where I’m in close quarters with the other tenants who live in my building. I love stepping outside my door and knowing that I’m surrounded by such diversity and liveliness.
What about only children? “Those who are “onlys” have a tendency to share the personality characteristics with the first born,” said Leman. “They are not saying ‘I’m an only child so I’m going to live here,’ but as they go through life, a single home that’s sort of isolated on a hill is going to sound real good to an only child because they like solitude and quiet for the most part,” says Leman.
“I’m technically the youngest in my family, but my two brothers are much older than me and were out of the house practically by the time I was born, so I basically grew up an only child,” says Adrienne Breaux, Apartment Therapy’s house tour editor. “Few people love having roommates, but I find the experience completely alien and uncomfortable. I grew up not sharing a bedroom or a bathroom and I admit, I’ve lived alone a lot in my life!”
Birth order and choosing where you are going to live gets even more interesting when you look at twins and multiples: “With twins, the one born first acts like the oldest—they like to claim that title,” says Leman. However, they might also choose to live together, or at least close by—especially if they’re identical twins.
“After going to college in separate parts of the country, my identical twin and I decided to move to NYC together (about an hour from where we grew up in Connecticut) post-grad,” says Emma Glubiak, Apartment Therapy’s audience development associate. “She’s one minute older than me and definitely needs more ‘quiet alone time’ than I do, but since we have separate friends and work schedules we aren’t too on top of each other. She’s certainly the best roommate I’ve ever had!
However, the fraternal sibling will be more likely to roam a bit more. “It’s probably not going to be on the other side of the country, though,” Leman says.