Wellness·5 min read

How Eldest Daughters Can Start Putting Themselves First (Yes, It's Possible)

Woman looking stressed
December 13, 2023

If you suffer from eldest daughter syndrome, you may be entitled to…overwhelming responsibilities and crippling perfectionism. At least according to TikTok and some very vocal eldest daughters. Research does show that birth order and gender can impact you beyond childhood — influencing who you become and what roles you take on within your family. But we don't often hear about the benefits of being the eldest daughter, or how to manage the potential downsides. 

Why eldest daughter syndrome happens

Firstborn children generally receive both positive attention and pressure to fulfill their parents’ expectations. Stereotypes about birth order being linked to personality traits are pervasive, but large studies haven’t shown a clear relationship. Susan McHale, a former professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University, explains that rather than determining who you become, being a firstborn exposes you to certain experiences that “serve to direct a kid one way or another.” 

Being female adds another layer. In many families, daughters take on more of the “caregiving and the emotional work” than sons, says McHale. One report found that girls between 5 and 14 spend 40% more time on chores than boys. "Somebody's going to take on that work, and it's not going to be the boys,” says McHale. As daughters grow up, they often continue to be “active agents within family systems,” and accept roles like caring for aging parents, says Allison Alford, a clinical associate professor at Baylor University.

The burden of these responsibilities can take a toll. “A girl who grows up with more excessive responsibilities and … limited awareness and appreciation of the demands could come away fairly traumatized,” says McHale. While there’s no extensive research on the mental or physical effects of being the eldest daughter, you don't need to go further than social media to see the anecdotal evidence of stress from overachievement, fear of failure, and burnout.

But being the eldest daughter isn't all bad

The responsibilities breed perfectionism for some, while others come away with stronger leadership skills and a sense of purpose. “Participating in family relationships is incredibly rewarding … we can find our identity in our family,” says Alford. 

One factor that can influence outcomes is your family’s cultural background. Gender roles can vary widely depending on ethnicity. “In some cultures, it's the firstborn brother who bears the weight of the family responsibility,” says McHale. Also, research shows that familism values (when family members put the family unit above themselves) can help increase self-esteem and other health benefits. Familism is particularly common among Latinos, so it’s possible that some eldest daughters who grew up with those values may not see their role as a burden.

How to “treat” eldest daughter syndrome  

Understanding the family dynamics that made you who you are today is an important part of growth. If you’re an eldest daughter who is struggling, ask yourself: 

  • How does your role in your family make you feel? 

  • Are you overwhelmed by familial obligations? 

  • Do you enjoy them? 

  • Do you feel underappreciated? 

Your answers may help you decide which of these steps might be most helpful:  

  • Set boundaries. If you feel like you're draining yourself for your family's needs, Alford says to be clear with them on what you will and won't do in the future. And if your concerns aren’t being heard, she and McHale suggest talking to your siblings about how your experience as the eldest daughter affects you. 

  • Learn to let go. Consider whether the pressure you feel is coming from your family or yourself, says Catherine Salmon, a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands. If you often seek control, the responsibility may fall on you to loosen your grip if you’re feeling burnt out. Your siblings might surprise you and be willing to pick up the slack — even if they don’t get it done the same way you would. 

  • Ask for validation. “People just want to be noticed, want to be seen, and want to be valued,” says Alford. If that resonates with you, try gently reminding your family of your efforts and asking for more recognition from them. 

  • Break the cycle. If you have or are considering kids, think about what you can do to avoid putting them in certain boxes. Don't gender their chores (e.g. boys on trash duty, girls handle vacuuming). And make sure you're giving all your kids enough time to feel like a kid versus always asking the oldest to babysit or help their siblings with homework.


Being the eldest daughter isn’t always easy, but the truth is that neither is being the youngest daughter, middle son, or only child. “If we were to talk about the middle child or the younger child or the fourth or fifth child, we could talk about their sad lot in life too,” says Alford. If the role of eldest daughter has become a burden for you, the key is to strike a balance between caring for your family and yourself.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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