Fraternal Birth Order, Family Size, and Male Homosexuality: Meta-Analysis of Studies Spanning 25 Years

Arch Sex Behav. 2018 Jan;47(1):1-15. doi: 10.1007/s10508-017-1007-4. Epub 2017 Jun 12.


The fraternal birth order effect is the tendency for older brothers to increase the odds of homosexuality in later-born males. This study compared the strength of the effect in subjects from small versus large families and in homosexual subjects with masculine versus feminine gender identities. Meta-analyses were conducted on 30 homosexual and 30 heterosexual groups from 26 studies, totaling 7140 homosexual and 12,837 heterosexual males. The magnitude of the fraternal birth order effect was measured with a novel variable, the Older Brothers Odds Ratio, computed as (homosexuals' older brothers ÷ homosexuals' other siblings) ÷ (heterosexuals' older brothers ÷ heterosexuals' other siblings), where other siblings = older sisters + younger brothers + younger sisters. An Older Brothers Odds Ratio of 1.00 represents no effect of sexual orientation; values over 1.00 are positive evidence for the fraternal birth order effect. Evidence for the reliability of the effect was consistent. The Older Brothers Odds Ratio was significantly >1.00 in 20 instances, >1.00 although not significantly in nine instances, and nonsignificantly <1.00 in 1 instance. The pooled Older Brothers Odds Ratio for all samples was 1.47, p < .00001. Subgroups analyses showed that the magnitude of the effect was significantly greater in the 12 feminine or transgender homosexual groups than in the other 18 homosexual groups. There was no evidence that the magnitude of the effect differs according to family size.

Keywords: Birth order; Homosexuality; Maternal immune hypothesis; Meta-analysis; RevMan; Sexual orientation; Transgender.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Birth Order*
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Gender Identity
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Immunity
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Siblings
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Transsexualism