Is there a word that refers to a system or social approach of giving the oldest child the most advantage/attention/rights. E.g.
"Why do they get to sit in the front seat"
"Because they're the oldest"
"That argument doesn't work. We don't practice ______."

I'm not looking for primogeniture, as the word I'm looking for has more to do with day to day activities than inheritance.

  • 6
    In your example, just "favouritism" will do. – Mr Lister Jul 31 '19 at 17:46
  • 20
    Primogeniture ​ "the custom by which all of a family's property goes to the oldest son when the father dies" Cambridge Dictionary – Peter Jennings Jul 31 '19 at 18:44
  • 1
    @Paul Jennings The OP's example is not about property but about the preferential right of a better seat. – Nigel J Jul 31 '19 at 19:19
  • 2
    @MrLister - in the colonies we favor "favoritism". :-) – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 '19 at 11:38
  • 3
    @TripeHound If the King wants shotgun, the King gets shotgun. – Grault Aug 1 '19 at 19:24

Seniority is a general concept that applies to people who are (a) older or who (b) have been around for longer. Lexico explains:

  1. The fact or state of being older or higher in rank or status than someone else.

  2. A privileged position earned by reason of longer service or higher rank.

The concept is commonly applied to companies and other hierarchies, including family structures. Within a family, the eldest child may have more seniority than his or her siblings by dint of longer service or age. So in your scenario, when one person says,

"Why do they get to sit in the front seat" "Because they're the oldest"

That primes a response on the basis of seniority, which would benefit the oldest.

"That argument doesn't work. We don't practice seniority."

If you wanted to be more precise, you could even specify the kind of seniority, e.g. "sibling seniority." Here is blogger Jules Kendall's description of seating priority with her siblings while growing up; she describes the power of choice she has over her siblings as "sibling seniority":

Later, the only child sat in the front seat in between the parents if the seat stretched out like a bench. If there was a console, they laid (or sat or twirled) in back seats like royalty on wide expanses of bonded leather or short pile upholstery. One brother, then two. My space became crowded, but as the oldest I was able to skirt the middle seat thanks to irrefutable laws of sibling seniority.

  • 5
    This is not the answer I would have chosen. On this site we don't upvote answers because seniority is practiced here.... without context, the term is confusing. "Birtherism" as a noun would make greater sense, if it meant awarding privileges to a firstborn. – Mari-Lou A Aug 1 '19 at 5:58
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA If you want to go that direction, how about ageism. – Mr Lister Aug 1 '19 at 13:11
  • 5
    @Mary-LouA "Birtherism" means something totally different and would be out of place in this context. – Grault Aug 1 '19 at 19:18
  • @Grault I know what birtherism means, I said "if it meant awarding privileges to a firstborn" – Mari-Lou A Aug 2 '19 at 4:25
  • 1
    Seniority != preference to the senior. – einpoklum Aug 3 '19 at 21:04

Unfortunately, the word you are seeking appears to be obsolete. It is the use of the word 'firstborn' to express the rights of the firstborn.

Firstborn :

  1. That is the right of the firstborn. Obsolete. nonce-use.

1770 O. Goldsmith Deserted Village 256 Spontaneous joys..The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway.

Oxford English Dictionary

I think you will need two words to fulfil your sentence :

That argument doesn't work. We don't practice firstborn preference.

  • Firstborn preference seems an optimum compromise between exactness of meaning and understandability? – fralau Aug 1 '19 at 7:33
  • 2
    @Amos Although slightly than in your question, "We don't favour the firstborn." could be another way of saying the same thing. – TripeHound Aug 1 '19 at 13:11
  • @Amos: The should have been "slightly different wording than...". – TripeHound Aug 1 '19 at 14:20
  • 1
    I think you've misunderstood the OED entry that you're quoting. It's defining an adjective "firstborn"; in the quotation, "first-born sway" means "sway that is the right of the firstborn". There's no reason to think that Goldsmith would have used "first-born" in a sentence of the form "We don't practice _____". – ruakh Aug 3 '19 at 18:55
  • @ruakh I disagree. The OED is giving the meaning 'the right of the firstborn' to the usage of the single word 'firstborn'. – Nigel J Aug 4 '19 at 8:02

You might use the term birthright:

a particular right of possession or privilege a person has from birth, especially as an eldest son.

  • 2
    This is the answer that most closely fits the example. It wouldn't necessarily be applied in favor of a middle child, for example. – Grault Aug 1 '19 at 19:20

Deference refers to the general concept of acceptance of another's wishes or needs ahead of the needs of another (including the self), and is commonly apparent as a social approach that references certain characteristics of the individuals within a social interaction that indicate who should defer to whom.

For example, it is common for a child to be expected to defer to the wishes of a parent, or for a younger child to defer to the eldest in certain, appropriate situations (which can include situations that are considered socially appropriate).

'Deference' is not specific to the act of a younger child acceding to the wishes or needs of an elder child, however you can refer to a younger child deferring to the eldest.

I would agree that the accepted answer of seniority, and the word birthright is more specific to the case of an older child having certain advantage, however those words also do not indicate that more attention should be applied, as the opposite is usually true that a younger child requires (and often receives) greater attention. The word 'seniority' also does not imply a right.

  • 1
    The word does not indicate who defers to whom; plus, OP talked about the environment or social system, not an arrangement among the siblings themselves. – einpoklum Aug 3 '19 at 21:05
  • @einpoklum. Thanks, I've qualifed/clarified my answer in response to your observations – Chris Halcrow Aug 5 '19 at 0:29

The disappointed child would likely answer, "But he always will be the oldest." Such a system or social approach is obviously wrong and thus there is no word for it and perhaps shouldn't be. Sorry, Amos.

  • Hi Aled Cymro. It seems you are not answering the question but giving your opinion on the situation. This is not how answers are supposed to be done. Maybe a comment in better than an answer in this case. – Pablo Straub Aug 13 '19 at 22:30
  • Thank you. Some decisions and the reasons we make to justify them are the result of prejudice or of an ideology inculcated into an impressionable young mind and thus there is no logical answer. But we ask them anyway. – Aled Cymro Aug 15 '19 at 12:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.