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Sheryl Sandberg, billionaire and chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., pauses during a panel session on day four of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014.
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Firstborn girls are more likely than their siblings to succeed, according to a study from the University of Essex.

Scientists applied modeling techniques to data from the British Household Panel Survey, which contains 1503 sibling clusters and a total of 3552 people. They examined both within-and between-family variances to find that birth order actually does affect academic success.

Firstborns are most likely to be “ambitious” and “accomplished” compared to their younger siblings. And firstborn girls turn out to be the most ambitious: they are 13 percent more likley to aspire to attend graduate school than firstborn boys. These statistics are true regardless of how many siblings you have and what gender combination they are.

But those who are truly the most likely to succeed are eldest siblings with a significant age gap between themselves and their younger siblings (four years or more): those eldest siblings are more likely to pursue advanced degrees.

“Educational disparities exist not only between families but also within families,” lead researcher Feifei Bu writes in the study. “It is interesting that we observe a distinct firstborn advantage in education, even though parents in modern society are more likely to be egalitarian in the way they treat their children.”

Previous research has shown that eldest siblings tend to develop a higher IQ, and scientists have posed many theories as to why. One obvious hypothesis is that parents invest more resources into the first child than into any other (by numbers two, three and four you might realize that playing only Mozart for your toddler is not a worthwhile task). But why female firstborns would do better than male ones is still a mystery.

But there’s really no empirical proof quite like celebrities. And what more evidence do you need than knowing that Beyoncé, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah, J.K. Rowling, Lena Dunham, Kate Middleton and Angela Merkel were all firstborns?

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at

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