Why We Never Told Our Twins Who Is Older

They're Twins - They're the Exact Same Age

Older twin girls
Does it really matter who is older?. strickke / E+ / Getty Images

When our identical twin daughters were born more than twenty years ago, my husband and I made a decision.  We decided not to disclose which girl was born first. Of course, that information is detailed on their birth certificates, and anyone that wanted to do a bit of sleuthing could uncover it. But this was one detail that we chose to keep private amongst our family. For twenty years now, it hasn’t been much of an issue for our twins, or for our family, but it does seem to raise ire with others, particularly perfect strangers.


It happens on a regular basis. Someone out in public -- a grocery store checker, the receptionist at the dental office, a waiter -- will start the dialogue. “Are they twins?” .. “Are they identical?” ...  “What are their names?” ... inevitably followed by, “Which one is older?”

As the girls have grown up, these questions are directed at them rather than at us, but either way, the converation gets stilted very quickly when the answer to the “Who’s older?” question is ... “We don’t know.” or “We don’t share that.”

It seems to drive people crazy that we won’t reveal which twin is older. The response initiates of flurry of inquiry that most often leads to a guessing session. (That is the point at which we attempt to make a swift exit.) 

This seems to be a vital piece of information about our twins, yet to us, it is such a non-issue. Except for the perfect strangers who feel compelled to inquire about it, birth order just isn’t something that my twins give much consideration.

To them, it’s simple: they’re twins, they’re the same age. 

There are three reasons that we never told our twins who is older.

Birth Order Doesn’t Apply to Twins

There are some situations where birth order is vitally important. In cultures that practice primogeniture, or prioritization of the firstborn (usually firstborn male) when determining inheritance of property or title, it definitely matters who was born first.

The first born might be in line for the throne! But for us ordinary folks, we’re pretty far removed from any chance of royal lineage or valuable inheritance. If a situation ever cropped up, I suppose we’d reconsider and divulge our twins’ birth order.

The characteristics associated with birth order (oldest= responsible, leader, middle= peacemaker, negotiater, youngest= spoiled, irresponsible) have been scientifically evaluated and debated. Whether or not you believe that birth order determines personality in families, there’s one aspect of it that simply doesn’t apply to twins. That is, these traits develop over time, taking years to shape and impact a person. With twins, the amount of time separating them is measured in minutes, not years. The few seconds, minutes, or hours that lapses between twin births simpy don’t provide enough time to impact their personalities. Plus, the birth order of twins can change depending on how the birth proceeds. The twin born first in a natural delivery may be last in the event of a c-section.

Prevent Stereotypes

Twins are subject to many stereotypes. We didn’t want to add a layer of judgement and assumption based on birth order. Even before my twins were born, I’d observed families with twins labeling their children in this manner. “She’s the older twin and has always been the leader.” Or, “He’s the younger of the two, and tends to be the follower.” It appeared to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you assign personality traits based on birth order, it’s not surprising that children behave in accordance, conforming to expectation. We didn’t want to impose pre-conceived attributes to each girl, but instead wanted to give them an opportunity to evolve into their own individual character, whatever it may be.

Prevent Fighting

We thought it would prevent fighting. Of course, it’s laughable now that we thought we could prevent them from fighting. Twins will fight over anything! But we thought it would remove an element of sibling argument.  If they didn’t know who was older, they couldn’t say, “I’m older. I’m the boss.” 

Ultimately, it just doesn’t matter that much. Carried together in the womb for thirty-six weeks, they’ve been together except for those fourteen minutes between births. We’ve always said that we would tell them who is older when they turn 21, but as that milestone grows closer, I’m not sure they even care to know. If we wait long enough, and staying youthful becomes more of a priority than growing up, they’ll start to fight about who is younger rather than who is older. But they’ll still be only a few minutes apart.

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